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Global Health Solutions Begin with Health Workers

I am surrounded by the buzz of the 37th Annual International Conference on Global Health, which kicked off in Washington, DC, yesterday. Here in the Omni Shoreham Hotel, we are far from the realities of so many people’s lives all over the globe:

  • Sleeping under a bednet every night to protect yourself from a potentially deadly malaria infection
  • Walking miles to the closest clinic to get contraceptives or other basic health care
  • Worrying about how to get your daughter, wife, or neighbor the emergency care she needs if she experiences difficult or prolonged labor in childbirth.

In many cases, we have solutions to these problems that people face every day. We have technology to effectively prevent and treat malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. We know how to give couples the information they need to plan whether and when to get pregnant and to prepare for safely giving birth to healthy babies. Yet, for too many, basic health care is still out of reach either because it is too expensive or inaccessible, or both. We, as a global health community, have reached a critical juncture. Health workers—community health educators, medical assistants, nurses, midwives, doctors, and others—are the lifeblood of any health care system, and key to improving the realities of people’s lives. It is their commitment and concern, knowledge and dedication that will bring about lasting change in their communities.

Today, there is a shortage of more than four million health workers. The effect of these missing workers is exponential, when you consider how many lives a health worker touches every day. As I walk around the conference this week, listening and participating in presentations and discussions and meeting with other global health leaders from around the world, in the back of my mind I am thinking of the ‘how’ in all of this. The ‘how’ of improving people’s lives and health around the world depends on health workers and the systems in which they work. It is IntraHealth’s commitment, and my own, to create the tools and support needed to appropriately train, motivate, and fairly compensate health workers everywhere.

One of the ways we are doing this is through our OPEN Initiative, which puts new technologies in the hands of health workers in developing countries, tapping them into the global knowledge platform. At the micro-level, this initiative provides individual health workers with the tools and technologies that might allow them to access a database to assist in patient diagnosis, seek a timely referral for a patient in need, or quickly record important health data. At the macro-level, the initiative bolsters the work of African governments and private institutions to design and apply their own open source software solutions to strengthen health information systems and engage in strategic health policy decisions and planning. With increasingly fast broadband, African developers are now using open source technology to help solve the greatest global health issues of our time. It’s exciting work, and you can read more about it here!

I will be talking a bit more about this project on Friday at a panel I am moderating (follow the conference on twitter #GHC37). Please consider joining me for “Measuring the Success of Open Source Health Information Systems,” June 18, 9:00 a.m., Governor’s Room at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

I invite you to also join other IntraHealth staff at our various events and presentations here in DC this week.