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Because Health Workers Save Lives: Why I Care about Human Resources for Health

I grew up in a small village in Kenya. I remember witnessing mothers delivering babies on the roadside while attempting to trek to a health facility miles away. Many times they ended their journey, turned around with their babies, and went back home; many times the babies did not live beyond three days; a few times the mother died leaving the baby behind; and other times both the mother and the baby died—most likely from minor complications.

I was too young to understand then, but when I became old enough, I knew that if a health facility were close enough or a trained and ready health worker were present, those deaths may have been avoided. Much progress has been made since then, but more needs to be done. This and other public health issues ignite my passion to join those dedicated to the quest to make public health programs more successful, particularly in resource-poor settings.

IntraHealth’s tagline “Because Health Workers Save Lives” has always resonated with me, even before I began my fellowship. It reflects my belief that the answer lies within the people. The presence of health workers in the community can save lives by providing even basic health services.

Worldwide, there is a need for 4 million health workers to increase access to critical primary health care services. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 57 countries fall short of the WHO’s minimum ratio of 2.3 health workers for every 1,000 people. Kenya is currently classified by the WHO as having an absolute shortage of health workers. Kenya’s government is committed to improving accessibility and equity of essential health services and has set targets to providing health services to its population. The government’s most recent allocation of money in its budget for the recruitment of 5,200 health workers in the next financial year (which began on July 1, 2012) is evidence of this commitment.

I’m excited to be working with the USAID-funded Capacity Kenya and FUNZOKenya projects. I’m particularly enthused by IntraHealth’s LEAD strategy to increase the number of health workers who are present, ready, connected, and safe. High-quality and accessible health services cannot be delivered without sufficient numbers of well-skilled, well-distributed, and well-managed health workers. Needless to say, many—way too many—women and children around the world suffer as a result of the health worker shortage.

The goal of the Capacity Kenya project is to increase the ability of the public health sector to rapidly mobilize additional qualified health workers and also to strengthen long-term human resources for health planning and management. Through a range of targeted activities, the project aims to help Kenya's Ministry of Health expand access to HIV/AIDS services and deliver quality health programs in priority posts in selected geographic regions. The FUNZOKenya project focuses on the training needs of health workers across the entire health system (public and private) and will focus on equipping health workers with the appropriate competencies to respond to health demands and to provide responsive, integrated comprehensive services.

Reflecting on my few weeks’ experience as a Fellow at IntraHealth, I find that I have much to be grateful for and a lot to learn regarding human resources for health. I can’t say enough about how friendly and supportive the staff at IntraHealth has been from the first moment—there is no better learning experience than interacting with supportive, global health experts! I’m now almost fully acclimated, and I am excited to discover ways in which I will incorporate the fellowship experience into my schoolwork and future career. I feel a sense of freedom in focusing on my interests and strengths in this important moment of my career development—thanks to the great mentorship from the staff hear at IntraHealth.

Now I look forward to enjoying the remaining weeks of my fellowship while learning from some of the finest in global health.