When we talk to people on the frontlines of the global fight against HIV/ AIDS, one thing becomes immediately clear: There is a great shortage of trained health workers.
Dedicated health workers provide millions of people who are living with HIV in developing countries with life-saving antiretroviral treatment, care and support, and with testing and counseling services.
Often, clinics are out of reach for many people, so frontline health workers go to their communities. They ensure that patients adhere to their medication, provide home-based care, and lead prevention and stigma-fighting efforts.
But there is a significant lack of these critical frontline fighters.
As a result, many of those who are most vulnerable to this pandemic have little to no access to health workers. This is an enormous barrier to the long-term goals of preventing new infections and ensuring that all in need of antiretroviral treatment receive it.
As we have seen from the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a lack of well-trained and supported health workers makes the fight against a range of global health threats – and the daily business of saving the lives of mothers and children – much more difficult.
Six years ago, great champions from both parties joined us in writing one of the greatest bipartisan pieces of legislation of this century – the Lantos-Hyde Global Leadership Act Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Lantos-Hyde reauthorized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Among the provisions of that legislation was a PEPFAR requirement to train and retain 140,000 new health workers.
To meet this goal, more work must be done to ensure that partner countries have the adequate staffing levels to deliver HIV/ AIDS prevention, life-saving treatment and care, and other essential health services. It is critical to support our partners in building a robust and sustainable health workforce to win the long and difficult fight against HIV/AIDS.
To this end, we led on the passage of the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act of 2013, which also received strong bipartisan support. Among other new reporting requirements, the law requires PEPFAR to provide to Congress an annual “description of efforts by partner countries to train, employ, and retain health-care workers, including efforts to address workforce shortages.”
PEPFAR supports life-saving antiretroviral treatment for more than 6.7 million people living with HIV, and supported treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission to 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women in the past two years alone. It has also provided testing and counseling for more than 60 million people.
These are remarkable achievements, and they are a testament to what can be accomplished through an open debate and bipartisan consensus-building.
As PEPFAR works to implement its blueprint for an AIDS-free generation, it will require reaching more remote and underserved communities. Frontline health workers who live and work in these communities will be critical in providing services to these hard-to-reach populations. Therefore, we must work with our partners to solidify and build on the service delivery platform that PEPFAR helped to establish, and continue to empower vulnerable communities to fight this pandemic.
This will require a coordinated and cohesive plan to ensure that our efforts have maximum impact to save lives and achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation.
Photo credit: Miguel Samper.