April 7 not only marked World Health Day, but also the beginning of World Health Worker Week, organised by the Global Health Workforce Alliance. Only in its second year, World Health Worker Week puts the spotlight on those who make better health a reality all over the world – not just helping to prevent and treat malaria, but also a variety of other deadly diseases and health threats.
Community health workers (CHWs) have been at the forefront of Malaria Consortium’s work in fighting malaria and childhood illnesses. Especially in our integrated community case management projects, CHWS have been crucial to guaranteeing programmatic sustainability and success. Often working as volunteers, CHWs act as the primary point of contact for families and individuals, especially those living in remote villages located far from health clinics.
Hospital or clinic-based health workers are also central to malaria control efforts, but still face many of the same challenges as those at the community level. These include low skill levels, lack of supplies and lack of supervision. Malaria Consortium focuses on working with ministries of health to provide them with training in using new diagnostic tools, improved malaria case management skills, and better supply management processes.
Despite the fact that we owe much of the success of the past decade to the dedication and hard work of facility and community-based health workers, much remains to be done. In a World Health Organization report, data shows that the world is short of around 7.2 million doctors, nurses and midwives. In addition, there are a number of challenges facing the global health workforce. In addition to an overarching shortage of trained personnel, there are concerns related to an ageing workforce, skills imbalances, low motivation and insufficient incentives (particularly among CHWs), limited availability of health workers to support remote populations, and a lack of follow-up procedures and assessments.
In response, the WHO has committed to increasing the health workforce and strengthening health systems. At Malaria Consortium we are doing our part by training thousands of health workers across Africa and Asia, working with ministries of health to provide them with training in diagnostic procedures, improved malaria case management skills, and better supply and data management processes. At the community level, we have been integrating common childhood diseases into CHW training – including malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea, and, in South Sudan, combining this with assessment and treatment for severe malnutrition. We have also been engaged in projects to address challenges in training CHWs and overcoming barriers to motivation, which are explored in a range of learning papers.
A new Malaria Consortium learning paper Malaria rapid diagnostic tests: preparing health workers for their integration into routine healthcare in Uganda to be released shortly, looks into some of these issues further.
The photostory below gives a glimpse into the life of one of these community based health ‘heroes’ in Uganda.