Advocating For and With Frontline Health Workers
By Carol Bales, Advocacy and Policy Communications Manager, IntraHealth International
“During the pandemic, health workers in my facility have faced a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)—like masks, sanitizer, and gloves—and disinfectants,” says Margaret Odera, a community health worker and mentor mother in Kenya.
Margaret is an HIV-positive mother with an HIV-negative husband and three HIV-negative sons. She shares her own experience to encourage pregnant women and new moms who are HIV-positive to start and remain on antiretroviral treatment so their babies will be HIV-free.
“I’ve feared contracting COVID-19,” she says. “Especially because I’m immunocompromised. I’m scared of carrying it home to my young sons. Keeping myself and my family safe is a big concern.”
Only 7% of all development assistance for health went to support the health workforce between 1990-2016. Most resources went for short-term interventions, rather than investments in long-standing health workforce challenges faced by workers like Margaret.
The Frontline Health Workers Coalition, an alliance of 38 US-based organizations, is urging the US and other donors and countries to increase investment in health workers, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the greatest health workforce shortage, and make sure they have the support, protection, and equipment they need.
During the lockdown Margaret and other health workers in Kenya didn’t receive their salaries. Nurses went on strike, demanding improved infection, prevention, and control; risk allowance; and more staff to care for the overwhelming number of clients.
“The strike paralyzed the health system,” Margaret says. “At my health center, the maternity ward closed, the general ward closed, and malaria clinics stopped.”
A pulse survey by the WHO shows 94% of countries surveyed experienced disruption to essential health services during the pandemic, with low- and middle-income countries reporting the greatest difficulties.
At least 115,000 health workers have died due to COVID-19 and many more have been infected. According to the WHO, just 5% of health workers globally have received the vaccine.
The Frontline Health Workers Coalition incorporates the stories we hear from health workers into our advocacy and policy recommendations calling for urgent actions to address the most pressing needs of frontline health workers, like prioritizing all health workers to receive a COVID vaccine.
We’re asking for commitment of new, long-term funding for frontline health workers. For FY 22 we have submitted a proposal to the US Congress to provide at least $100 million to support health systems and frontline health workers in low- and middle-income countries through the USAID Office of Health Systems. This funding should ensure health workers’ safety and well-being, and provide the supplies and remuneration they need to do their work, taking into account the specific needs of women health workers, who make up 70% of the global health workforce.
This week at the World Health Assembly, we submitted comments to the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is leading the US delegation. We’re urging the US to push the World Health Organization and Member States to invest in health workers and ensure they’re involved in decisions around pandemic preparedness.
Watch our webinar held alongside WHA and led by our member Seed Global Health and other Act for Health Workers campaign partners. It’s rightly titled Hindsight is 2020: Investing in the Health of Health Care Workers, and features Margaret Odera and other health workers advocating for what they need.
About the Frontline Health Workers Coalition: Since 2012, the Frontline Health Workers Coalition (FHWC) has been advocating for greater and more strategic US and global investment in frontline health workers in low- and middle-income countries as a cost-effective way to save lives and foster a healthier, safer, and more prosperous world. IntraHealth International leads the FHWC Secretariat. We welcome new members; see our application and contact David Bryden, FHWC Director, for more info. Learn more: https://www.frontlinehealthworkers.org/ and follow us on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/FHWCoalition.