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Global Health Workforce: A Household Name

This post was originally published on the CapacityPlus blog.

It’s impossible to forget a woman caring for five kids, in a cockroach-infested plywood house, in 90-degree weather. She has no access to clean water or adequate health care.

I was fortunate as a teenager to have experienced the health and quality of life conditions in the developing world firsthand. On a 10-day school trip to Matamoros, Mexico, this image was ingrained my mind and in the minds of 12 other high school students. (In case you’re unaware of Matamoros’s location, it’s barely five miles from the United States border.)

Public opinions

Diseases such as HIV and AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, and access to clean water are often cited as the biggest public health concerns for developing nations. While these issues are rightfully at the center of the public and government discourse, I wanted to see how the global health workforce stacked up against these other widely recognized problems.

I talked to a friend and my father for their perspectives on the health workforce crisis as people who do not work in the human resources for health niche. I asked them both: What do you believe are the most pressing global health issues in the developing world? What do you about know the health workforce crisis in developing nations?

My friend Felipe

Felipe is currently an undergraduate student of international affairs at a local Washington, DC, university and enrolled in a global public health class. “Infectious disease, more specifically HIV and AIDS, is the most pressing global health issue,” he said. Additionally, he was unaware of what the health workforce crisis was, as this topic was never brought up in his class.

My father Sam

I asked my father, an investment broker by trade, the same two questions. “HIV and AIDS and starvation are at the top of the list,” he said. “Those are the issues more commonly advocated on television, news, and through celebrities and therefore on my radar.” He admitted he didn’t know anything about the health workforce crisis. Once I briefly explained the health workforce crisis, he was a bit surprised at the lack of exposure it receives.

I also posted a short survey on Facebook to learn what some of my friends understand about human resources for health and the health workforce crisis.

Facebook survey results

I was not surprised then when a majority (15 out of the 18 surveyed) had never heard of human resources for health or the health workforce crisis. The results mirrored the responses I received from Felipe and my father—HIV and AIDS and infectious diseases (like tuberculosis) dominated the responses.

In addition, those surveyed believed that more international aid should be given to these same global health issues, but I was surprised to see that of those surveyed, nearly half did believe the overall health workforce crisis should receive more attention and more international aid.

Becoming a household name

Perhaps one of the ways that the IntraHealth-led CapacityPlus project can address the health workforce crisis and HRH issue is by making it a household name. My experience in Mexico has never left me, nor do the images of malnourished children or of people dying from AIDS.

Outside of global public health, it seems that people don’t know or fully grasp what the health workforce crisis is and what it means to the millions of people affected by it. CapacityPlus has the ability and the voice to demonstrate that global health workforce issues are as tangible and serious as the rest.