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FHWC Urges WHO Executive Board to Put Frontline Health Workers at Center of Ebola Discussions

This week, 34 technical experts on health representing World Health Organization member-states will meet to set the agenda for the largest and most influential gathering of health ministers and civil society organizations of the year: the World Health Assembly. The WHO executive board will decide the health policy agenda that the World Health Assembly will deliberate on in May, and consequently begin the conversation of which global health issues will be rallying points for the international community over the coming year.

We know that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the enormous human and economic toll it has taken on the region will be a focus at the WHO executive board meeting. A new Frontline Health Workers Coalition statement issued ahead of the meeting emphasizes the need for greater investment and political attention to issues facing frontline health workers both in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and around the world.

A global human resources for health strategy should be a focal point of discussion for member-state representatives this week.

The Ebola epidemic has underscored the need for a well-financed and coordinated effort to address the perilous health workforce shortages in countries around the world, and the WHO executive board will also hear from the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA) about progress on the creation of a broad-based global strategy on human resources for health.

In December, the WHO plainly stated that weak health workforce and infrastructure was a main contributor to the devastating spread of Ebola and its ripple effects of stalled economic growth and a complete breakdown of access to basic health services such as malaria, HIV and TB treatment, and obstetric care in the region. To demonstrate a commitment to preventing another global health crisis on the scale of the Ebola epidemic, the creation and implementation of a global human resources for health strategy should be a focal point of discussion for member-state representatives during the WHO executive board meeting, and during the World Health Assembly in May.

We already know that health workers, and especially frontline health workers, are critical to save newborn lives, prevent malnutrition, increase the utilization of family planning, reduce the burden of HIV, TB and malaria, and prevent, detect, and respond to public health threats. What we lack is a global vision and strategy that sets clear targets and integrates what we know works in health workforce development and support from varied sectors. A global strategy that is comprehensive can help guide donor country investment and aid national level planners and policy makers to bolster the number of and support for skilled health professionals, like frontline health workers, in the places where they are needed most.

Based on GHWA’s recently released synthesis paper, the FHWC strongly recommends that discussion around the global strategy address:

  • Specific  targets, timelines, and commitments for ensuring that by 2030:
    • All communities will have access trained and supported health workers with a minimum core set of competencies;
    • All countries will have the health workforce and systems needed to stop Ebola and other existing and emerging public health threats.
  • An implementation plan that includes clear delineation of responsibilities for country governments, regional bodies, and donors. This will help create accountability and support the sustainability of efforts to recruit, train, deploy, support, and retain health workers, especially those on the front lines.
  • Synergies between the Global HRH Strategy and other global compacts and health strategies including the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Family Planning 2020, the Every Newborn Action Plan and the UNAIDS’ 90/90/90 strategy. Several global strategies set ambitious targets for improving health outcomes.  A sustainable health workforce is critical to achieving the stated strategic outcomes, especially in poor, remote and other hard-to-serve communities.

We’ll be watching the discussions around the global human resources for health strategy at the WHO executive board meeting and in the next few months very closely. Do you have ideas for what should be included in the strategy? The consultation on the GHWA synthesis paper is open until January 31st. Share your thoughts, and learn more here:

his post originally appeared on the Frontline Health Worker Coalition blog.

Also read: IntraHealth Urges WHO Executive Board to Take Urgent Action on Ebola Response and Recovery