The Ebola outbreak has brought home how vital the need is for skilled, frontline healthcare workers. How can business, government and NGOs work together to swell their numbers?
Frontline health staff, such as community health workers and midwives, are the backbone of resilient, responsive health systems in developing countries. Skilled in dealing with everyday health challenges, including malaria and malnutrition, they can reach patients in even the most remote areas, helping them get the care and treatment they need.
But there are simply not enough of them. The World Health Organization estimates a global shortage of about 7.2 million health workers, and that is projected to grow to 12.9 million over the next two decades as populations expand.
A dearth of these essential workers can leave health systems vulnerable to shocks – as the Ebola outbreak in west Africa has so painfully illustrated. Many health workers lost their lives to the epidemic and the sudden demands of managing Ebola left clinics and hospitals unable to sustain their usual levels of care for diseases such as malaria.
Swelling the ranks of frontline health workers can strengthen health systems, enabling them to anticipate, prevent and manage healthcare needs. Not only does this help keep communities healthy, but it can help them to thrive economically too, with more people able to go to work and school.
Businesses are looking for innovative ways to support health worker training. Healthcare company GSK is reinvesting 20% of profits made in least-developed countries back into supporting the training of health workers in those countries along with three NGOs: Amref Health Africa, Care International and Save the Children. And as part of a broader five-year strategic partnership, GSK and Save the Children are working together to strengthen health systems by developing child-friendly medicines, engaging in proactive disaster relief, and advocating universal health coverage.
So what are the best ways to increase the number of frontline health workers? What role should the government play in supporting the training and development of frontline health workers? How can the public and private sector, and NGOs, work in partnership to support them? And what is the interconnection between a strong health system and sufficient numbers of well-trained health workers?
Published: Guardian News
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