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On April 22, hundreds of colleagues, leaders and supporters from around the world joined global health organization IntraHealth International at the FedEx Global Education Center to commemorate its 30th anniversary of supporting health workers for sustainable, accessible care. With a spotlight on the critical role health workers play in the well-being of communities worldwide, North Carolina Public Radio host, Frank Stasio moderated an expert panel discussion, and speakers from a dozen countries discussed the successes and lessons learned, opportunities and challenges, that have shaped IntraHealth’s past contributions and future approach to health workforce development.
Worldwide, there is a shortfall of four million health workers needed to increase access to basic health services. IntraHealth, which began as a program at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine, has worked in over 90 countries to help local institutions to better plan for, train, and support health workers. Its efforts have reached hundreds of thousands of people with vital services for maternal and child health, family planning, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
Frank Stasio spoke with four panelists on the topic “Why are health workers so important?”: David Benton, CEO of the International Council of Nurses in Switzerland; Barbara Stillwell, director of technical leadership at IntraHealth; Eric Friedman, senior global health policy advisor with Physicians for Human Rights in Washington, DC; and Pape Gaye, president and CEO of IntraHealth. The panel collectively emphasized that global health is about promoting wellness, and not just fighting disease.
“Global health is not about sickness, but health, prosperity and stability. We are a global society, if a country is burdened by disease, it is insecure, economically deprived and risks collapse and chaos,” said Gaye. “Health workers are an essential link between systems and services, and play the crucial role of facilitating access to high-quality care for individuals and communities. IntraHealth has chosen for 30 years to focus on health workers because we firmly believe that they make health work; investing in human resources for health is the most effective way for a country to have the widest impact on health.”
According to a recent report by the Lancet, the number of women dying from pregnancy or childbirth each year has declined sharply since 1980—from 526,300 to an estimated 342,900 in 2008—and the likelihood that a woman will die in childbirth declined by more than 40%. The study points out that although only 23 countries are truly on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal of a 75% reduction in maternal mortality rates by 2015, many countries are now achieving accelerated progress.
“Progress occurred because health workers became the bridge between a rapidly expanding body of knowledge and communities in need of medical care. There was great progress in developing drugs, diagnostics, vaccines and other preventive measures; but it was doctors and nurses and midwives and lab techs and other kinds of health workers who then built the bridge between that body of knowledge and the needs of the communities they serve. This is where IntraHealth has made remarkable contributions to public health—through its focus on the health worker,” said Maurice Middleberg, vice president of global policy for IntraHealth, in his closing remarks.