Editor’s note: Part of a special series on the global health workforce, in partnership with the Frontline Health Workers Coalition. Checkout #HealthWorkersCount on Twitter for more from coalition partners. Issue No. 18 of Impact, focusing on the global health workforce, launches next week.
By Oscar Abello
For so many in the global health workforce, the most important contributions they make are the hard conversations that lead to people getting connected to the products and services they need. No matter the latest mHealth or eHealth tool, it’s still those conversations that most often close the deal and get clients moving on the path to healthier lives.
Jhpiego, the international nonprofit health organization affiliated with The Johns Hopkins University, has worked with a wide range of volunteers as well as paid health workers who bravely take on a wide range of those hard conversations. Here are three examples from just one country where Jhpiego works, Mozambique:
- With victims of sexual violence. In the city of Maputo and four other high HIV-prevalence areas, a public health initiative supported by Jhpiego is raising awareness of gender violence, streamlining services for victims of sexual violence, and training health care workers in infection prevention and treatment protocols.“We want victims to know that even after the assault happens, it’s not over. You have a second chance and you can get help,” said Ana Baptista, the workplace safety technical coordinator at Jhpiego.
- With fellow church members about cervical cancer screening. Nostina Ngomane was the first woman in her parish to get screened for cervical cancer in 2012, using the low-cost, safe, effective visual inspection with acetic acid method, also known as the vinegar approach. She has since embraced a role as a lay peer educator for early cancer screening.“Most women are positive about getting screened, but some are scared about the possibility of having cancer, of having to face that reality and what it would mean for their lives,” Ngomane said. “Sometimes I wish I could enter the hearts of those women, remove their fear and replace it with my strength.”
- With other expecting mothers who are HIV-positive. Sandra Bento Nuvunga was five months pregnant when she found out she was HIV-positive. She made all the right choices – going on anti-retroviral therapy, making sure at birth her son received a dose of Nevirapine – to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. But when her son was born, in 2007, the technology at that point required her to wait a year before she knew his ultimate status. Though it was a harrowing year, he remains HIV-negative to this day. Sandra since began volunteering as an “expert patient activist” at the facility where she received her PMTCT services. ““I like to share my story with others and show that you can lead a healthy life by adhering to treatment,” she said.
How can supervisors, local organizations, governments, or international actors in global health do a better job supporting full-time or part-time staff or volunteers who have such difficult conversations on a regular basis? It’s one of the key challenges that will need solutions if global health is to continue its positive direction from the past few decades.
Hard conversations have to happen. There is no app for that.
Thanks to Jhpiego staff for sharing reporting for the stories above: Ann LoLordo, Blanca Catalan, Eric Ramirez-Ferrero, Matias Anjos, Maria Vaz, Veronica Reis, Kathryn Boryc Smock, and Sandra Cassa.
Photo: Blanca Catalan (left), one of the first nurses Jhpiego trained for cervical cancer screenings, with Nostina Ngomane (right), a cervical cancer screening client who since became a lay peer educator for early cancer screening. (Credit: Jhpiego)