Frontline Health Workers Finally Take the Spotlight
Last week during the opening of the U.N. General Assembly we heard the depressing statistic that every 20 seconds a child dies of a preventable disease like pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and polio.
But at the end of the week — in an event on Capitol Hill celebrating and promoting the frontline health worker — we heard another statistic that raised our spirits: Every 3 seconds a life is being saved by a frontline health worker.
But there are not nearly enough of them: One billion people will never have access to a health worker, according to Adam Taylor of World Vision, who moderated the event, and there is a global deficit of about 4.2 million workers.
Just imagine how many more lives could be saved if that gap could be closed.
That was the inspiration for the briefing, “Championing Health Workers: The Best Way to Improve Global Health and Save Lives for Less,” organized by IntraHealth and Save the Children in conjunction with the Congressional Global Health Caucus.
The event was the precursor of an incipient movement whose vision is “that everyone has access to basic preventative and curative health care by skilled, supported and motivated frontline health workers — the Frontline Health Workers Coalition. Founding members include AMREF, CARE, Earth Institute, Family Care International, IntraHealth, Millennium Promise, ONE, Partners in Health, RESULTS, Save the Children, UN Foundation, White Ribbon Alliance and World Vision.
The main goal of the Coalition — which will be launched formally before the end of the year — is to get the U.S. Global Health Initiative (GHI) to support an additional 250,000 new frontline health workers, and to better deploy, train and support existing workers where the need is greatest. Amie Batson, the assistant administrator for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said that GHI already has an explicit mandate to “train and retain” 140,000 workers, leaving a gap of 110,000.
Mugara Joseph Mahungururo, a real life frontline health worker and midwife from Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania, was there to make the case.
“It’s so challenging to be a pregnant woman in my country,” she said. But she cited a variety of ways the U.S. government is already helping — by training midwives, educating pregnant women, providing voluntary HIV counseling and testing, providing bednets and eradicating malaria in Zanzibar, among other things.
“Keep on helping us [the health workers] protect pregnant women,” was her appeal to the U.S. Congress.
Ms. Batson gave examples of what the U.S. government is already doing to support health workers but she said the countries themselves are leading the way. In Afghanistan, the government has introduced a contract with girls to be trained in midwifery on the condition that they return to their villages and apply their new skills. In Ethiopia, the government has expanded the concept of health extension workers and task-shifting. And Rwanda is experimenting with performance-based financial incentives.
Maurice Middleberg, vice president for Global Policy at IntraHealth, said that although a revolution in service delivery has been equally responsible for improved health outcomes as better vaccines and technologies, too little progress has been made on increasing and supporting health workers. He called it a “failure of implementation.”
Mr. Middleberg outlined IntraHealth’s philosophy on frontline health workers: They should be “present, ready, connected and safe.” Achieving that, he said, is a shared responsibility, and more should be expected of developing country governments, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Global Fund and the GAVI Alliance.
Mary Beth Powers, campaign chief for Newborn and Child Survival at Save the Children, called on the Global Health Initiative to deliver three things:
• A comprehensive and detailed workforce strategy.
• Funding for 250,000 additional health workers, the U.S. commitment to address the shortage of at least 1 million health workers in the developing world.
• Greater accountability on the training of the health workers with measurable indicators.
An audience member posed a crucial question: How do we make the case for more U.S. government investment in health workers in such an adverse budget environment? Ms. Batson said we need to go beyond citing the number of health workers trained and get to the real impact of those health workers: How many children’s lives were improved and saved as a result of those health workers?
After all, healthy mothers and children should be a bipartisan issue.
“Health workers are key to maternal and child health, and will be the focus of a lot of the attention and new money being pledged,” according to the PovertyMatters Blog funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
For more information about the Frontline Health Worker Coalition, call Betsy Kovacs, director of Communications and External Affairs, AMREF USA at (212) 768-2440 or Mary Beth Powers of Save the Children at (203) 221-4269.
Comment by smiths ryan Posted on 11th Oct 2011
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