A New Day for Frontline Health Workers
Starting today, AMREF hopes you will be hearing a lot more about the indispensable contribution of “frontline health workers” and the even greater contribution they could make if the world can expand their numbers to meet the current estimated shortage of at least one million – and some experts say is closer to four million.
“Frontline” is an apt descriptor of the people who are the first and often the only point of contact to the health care system for millions of people in developing countries. They are community health workers, midwives and rural health practitioners, but they can also include local pharmacists, nurses and doctors.
These frontline workers deliver babies, give pre- and post-natal care, administer life-saving vaccinations, counsel families on the importance of mosquito nets and clean water and hygiene, and provide prevention and early diagnoses of a wide range of deadly and health-sapping diseases and infections — HIV and AIDS, pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhea, malaria, measles and malnutrition to name a few. They truly are the backbone of most developing country health systems.
Today AMREF joins 14 other non-profit organizations in launching a new campaign - the Frontline Health Workers Coalition — in calling on the U.S. government to invest in frontline health workers as “the most cost-effective way to save the lives of mothers and children, address AIDS and other global health threats and help advance U.S. economic and strategic interests.”
Dr. Peter Ngatia, director of training at AMREF’s headquarters in Kenya, is one of the speakers at the launch at the Kaiser Family Foundation today in Washington, D.C., and will talk about what it means to be a frontline health worker in Africa.
“The frontline health workers are the unsung heroes of the health system in Africa,” said Dr. Ngatia. “They are multi-skilled and selfless providers of health care to the poor and underserved populations, particularly women and children, who live in isolated and remote rural Africa. Their training is comprehensive, shorter and at a fraction of the cost of training higher level health professionals, yet they easily attend to more than 75% of the disease burden in Africa.”
The Coalition, which also releases a policy briefing focusing on the need for frontline health workers today, is calling on the U.S. administration to train and support an additional 250,000 new frontline health workers — as its contribution to addressing the global shortage of a million workers — and to better support the capacity and impact of existing workers where the need is greatest.
There are humanitarian and moral justifications for providing these 250,000 frontline health workers. But it also makes economic sense. In fact, investing in frontline health workers is the most cost-effective ways to save lives, and the report gives four reasons why frontline health workers are a good U.S. investment.
The Coalition says that despite the fact that a child’s death is prevented every three seconds somewhere in the world thanks to care provided by a frontline health worker, there are still too few health workers to reach the millions of families who need them: Nearly 21,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable causes, and 1,000 girls and women die every day in pregnancy and childbirth.
Closing the health worker gap in Africa is AMREF’s highest advocacy priority, according to its website: “AMREF considers the health worker shortage, particularly in rural areas, one of the major challenges facing effective health care in Africa. Health systems strengthening calls attention to the need for capacity building at all levels in order to close the gap of more than 1 million health workers needed for Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goals.”
If you are reading this, you are likely already a global health supporter. But we ask you to go beyond being a passive supporter and help us get out the word on frontline health workers. There are several things you can do to raise the visibility of the issue and the Coalition. Here are a few:
- Comment on this blog below.
- Read the coalition's new policy brief , released today.
- Check out the Coalition’s new website.
- Let your representatives and senators know you want them to support funds for expanding the number of frontline health workers in the developing world.
- Write a blog or letter to the editor of your local newspaper, and link to the website.
- Tweet about the issue using the hashtag #frontline.
- Become a fan on the Coalition's new Facebook page, and share the stories photos, and encourage your friends and fans to visit and sign up.
Please join our effort to convince the U.S. government that meeting one-quarter of the 1 million new frontline health workers that are needed would save millions of lives and be money well spent.
Read my previous AMREF blog on frontline health workers from Oct. 4, 2011.
To learn more, please listen to a Field Call with Dr. Peter Ngatia, AMREF Director of Capacity Building. Dr Ngatia discusses the new Coalition and speaks about AMREF's training programs, and why new health workers are so critical to better health for Africa.