How many times have you been to see a doctor in the past year? For most of us in developed countries our answer will be at least once, if not much more. This short clip describes how 1 billion people in the world never see a health worker in their entire lives. Can you imagine where you would be if that were true for you?
This video was launched by the Global Health Workforce Alliance at the opening ceremony of the 2nd Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Bangkok last week. The Alliance is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) and is a common platform for action to address the crisis of a shortage of 4.2 million health workers currently needed in communities around the world, 1.5 million needed in Africa alone.
There is an unfortunate phenomenon of individuals from rural and poor communities receiving medical training and then being forced to seek jobs in big cities or even internationally in order to obtain better wages and career opportunities. This takes skilled health workers out of the communities that need them the most, contributing to the 57 countries currently facing extreme health worker shortages.
In order to meet Goal 4 and 5 of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters, WHO estimates that 23 doctors, nurses and midwives are needed per 10,000 people in every region. Unfortunately, they have found that only 5 of the 49 countries categorised as low-income economies by the World Bank meet that minimum threshold, which leaves millions of people with inadequate access to health services.
As we have discussed previously, child and maternal health is a major aspect of extreme poverty. For those individuals living in rural or poor communities where it may take hours or even days to access a health worker, they have an increased chance of dying from preventable and treatable diseases as well as during critical times such as childbirth.
According to ONE, 8.1 million children under the age of 5 die each year from mostly preventable and treatable causes and 358,000 mothers die each year from pregnancy-related causes, 80% of which could be prevented if they had access to basic maternal and health services.
With all the statistics and disappointing information, it is easy to get overwhelmed and feel like there is nothing we can do to make things better. In the case of access to health services however, it is about finding a way to distribute better and more efficient aid to support these marginalised communities and promote local health workers.
Below are just a few ways good aid could make a huge difference in creating more and better distributed health workers and links to organisations you can support who are tackling these issues.
- Oxfam has helped countries, like Mozambique, use the resources to train and pay for many committed health workers and to build more health centers giving people access to vital services and medicines.
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports advocacy efforts to build awareness of global health challenges, develop new ways to finance health programs, and improve health data.
- GAVI has been funding new Health System Strengthening (HSS) programmes that encourage and enable countries to identify infrastructure and resource weaknesses that are barriers to the achievement of immunisation and other public health goals.
Supporting these organisations and others like them will help us meet MDG 4 and 5 and hopefully lead us to the day when there are health workers for everyone, everywhere.