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The Best Way to Pay Tribute to Health Workers? Invest in Them.

Janet Muriuki. Photo courtesy of IntraHealth International.

Janet Muriuki outlines three areas to invest in for a fit-for-purpose health workforce.

Globally, health workers remain the unsung heroes of our society. They work tirelessly, often putting their own lives at risk, to ensure that we stay healthy and safe.

I began my career as a health worker. As a physician, I practiced in some of Kenya’s public and private health facilities, including an HIV clinic and later a hospital that focused on women’s and children’s health. So I know the long hours, the hard work, and the sacrifices it takes for them to do this.

In recognition of their efforts, we celebrate World Health Worker Week every year as an opportunity to thank and appreciate the dedication and commitment of health and care workers.

I know the long hours, the hard work, and the sacrifices it takes.

In Kenya, like many parts of the world during the past three years, health workers have played a vital role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been on the front lines caring for those affected by the virus. They have worked long hours, often without breaks, and have faced unimaginable stress and emotional trauma. In many instances, they served without adequate personal protective equipment, amid high volumes of patients, risking becoming infected.

Despite these challenges, they have continued to serve their communities with selflessness and courage. At IntraHealth International, this is just one reason for our commitment to strengthen health systems and better serve health workers with decent pay, benefits, and working conditions, and stronger workforce management and education.

To invest in health workers and achieve a fit-for-purpose health workforce that is resilient, responsive, and able to deliver equitable access to high-quality, person-centered care, we must invest in these three areas:

1. Timely, accurate data to drive decision-making and investment.

For years now we’ve advocated for governments and policymakers to use health workforce budgeting tools to lobby for resources at national and subnational levels; training needs assessments to inform workforce production based on population needs; the Workload Indicators of Staffing Need (‎WISN) tool‎ to rationalize health facility staffing based on workload; and National Health Workforce Accounts to generate data for evidence-based planning linked to investments.

The gains from these efforts continue to emerge—in Kenya, for example, the Ministry of Health and county governments are systematically using data as part of standardized processes to progressively support better health worker management.

2. Coordination.

In Kenya, we’ve worked with the Ministry of Health, county governments, civil society, and other local partners to create a conducive human resources for health (HRH) coordination platform to drive the HRH agenda. Kenya has benefited from this structure through HRH policy and strategy formulation involving both levels of government to harmonize priority areas for implementation.

3. Leadership, management, and governance skills in navigating dynamic health and disease ecosystems.

IntraHealth supports skills-building for health managers and policymakers to create more awareness of and dialogue on the issues that affect health workers. The establishment of work councils in Kenya, for example, has facilitated dialogue with health union leaders and helped to avert health worker unrest in the country. We champion and prioritize fair compensation and the mental and physical health of our health providers.

World Health Worker Week is an important time to appreciate and recognize the dedication of health and care workers. By taking steps to support their well-being and reduce the burden on them, we can make a difference in their lives and help them continue to provide critical care to our communities. When we invest in health workers, our return on investment is healthier, more productive lives for all of us.

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