Advances in technology have brought us revolutionary progress in global health: vaccines, rapid diagnostic tests, mHealth and more. Investment in developing these technologies has been critical – but just as vital is investment in delivering them.
People – health workers in particular – are the ones who keep the long hours and walk the last mile armed with treatment, devices and information. They include midwives, community outreach workers, pharmacists, nurses and doctors, and they’re the vital link between the health system and the community.
This is evident now more than ever as we try to contain an aggressive Ebola outbreak that is stalking West Africa.
IntraHealth International and PSI operate programs in the region, where health workers are the backbone of our operations. The Ebola outbreak has shown that health workers are both key to containing the virus and also incredibly vulnerable.
A crisis of this magnitude chips away at the already fragile state of health systems across low- and middle-income countries. It also signals a necessity to invest in health systems and health workers more urgently than ever. The World Health Organization estimates a global shortage of 7.2 million doctors, nurses and midwives.
If we fully utilized community health workers on the frontlines, the lives of more than 3 million children could be saved. We could also see a 40 percent reduction in newborn deaths with an increased labor and delivery workforce.
In Ethiopia alone, rates of young children immunized, treated for pneumonia and given vitamin A doubled with the training and deployment of 38,000 frontline health workers.
Investments must be made in training and retaining health workers at all levels; advocating for policies that allow lower-level medical practitioners to perform certain procedures, such as voluntary medical male circumcision; engaging and regulating the private health sector, where so many people seek health products and services; and investing in the next generation of health workers.
And we must work together – community and faith-based organizations, international NGOs and the private sector – with national governments to build a stronger global health system that better supports health workers.
Invest today, build the capacity of tomorrow, secure the health of our future.
Phot credit: © Gareth Bentley / The Image Foundry