News & commentary about the global health workforce
Vital Home

Human Resources for Health: Shifting the Paradigm

This post originally appeared on CHW Central:

Question, by Donna Bjerregaard: What do you feel was accomplished at the Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health (HRH) in Recife?

Answer, by Pape Gaye: The meeting was a milestone, especially for someone like me, who is interested in and passionate about advancing HRH. I thought three main points came out clearly:First, gaining commitment to universal health care is an important step. Building on past forums in Uganda (2008) and Bangkok (2011), this conference provided a mechanism for country leadership, engagement and platforms. The fact that 57 World Health Organization member states developed internally driven commitments was groundbreaking. Some even read their commitments aloud. This provides an opportunity to begin working on their needs.

Second, the message came out clearly that to succeed, HRH needs to reach beyond ministries of health and the formal sector. We need other actors, civil society engagement, and especially private-sector input. If we follow through on these recommendations, the private sector could add a new dimension. The message for broadening constituencies to work together came out strongly—I hope people take that point seriously.

Finally, community health workers need to be front and center in any national strategy that is developed. Although we have heard this before, donors are now committing to put resources and energy into this. The focus needs to stay on integrating community health workers into formal health systems.

Q: Were there things that could have been done differently?

A: Definitely! Things were missing, especially the civil society, private sector, and community health worker voices. Even IntraHealth’s Switchpoint session, the only one focused on the private sector, could have done a better job about highlighting the role of the private sector. Why wasn’t this a major theme? We could have had private-sector representatives speak in plenary. We missed an important opportunity.I also wish we heard more voices of health workers and community health workers. The award ceremony did recognize frontline health workers, but more was needed. Overall we moved the HRH agenda slightly—from that standpoint, I think it was a success. 

Q: What do these commitments mean and how can they be implemented?

A: The value of having something truly tangible from countries themselves, for a change—something that was not an imposed agenda but came straight from the countries’ own needs—is important. What will we do with these commitments? I hope we don’t turn to policing them. In reality, we know many of these countries don’t have the resources required and lots will need additional support.

We can take a lesson from global advocacy campaigns.

There is a need for donors, contractors, and implementers to act on the fact that their own health workforce strategies are needed to move the global commitments to the next stage. As we see, the US Agency for International Development is in the process of doing just that, which makes this an opportune time to act.

We can take a lesson from global advocacy campaigns, such as Every Woman, Every Child, and FP2020, to ensure that community health workers become an integral part of the HRH strategies. I am not sure this is obvious to all—sometimes health workers can even be part of the problem.

Contacts between community health workers and communities need to be multiplied and we need to continue advocacy efforts so the importance and centrality of the health workforce to national health systems and economic development is understood.

Read the rest of this interview at CHW Central, a global resource for and about community health workers.

Also related: