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Meet 7 Health Workers Who Are Changing the Way We Approach Global Health Beyond the Pandemic

Here's what they say is essential to them.

Health workers know better than anyone what they need to be safe on the job. They know what it takes to be prepared for coronavirus cases as they come in the door. To end the COVID-19 pandemic, prevent future disease outbreaks, and to keep essential services running and available for their communities.

During World Health Worker Week 2021, we’re amplifying their voices and recommendations on how we can better support and protect health workers—now and for the long haul.

Meet seven health workers and leaders who are telling us what’s essential to them during the pandemic and beyond. Let’s listen:

Zipporah Iregi: Small steps are essential.

I am the next-generation health care worker.

I would love to see a future where every health worker has the resources they need to practice at the top of their profession and has what they need to feel unity in their profession.

Where the government and leaders work hand-in-hand with every health worker to improve their working conditions and to improve health—not just in their countries, but in the world at large.

Where an institution’s capacity to train nurses and other health workers is increased such that every graduate can be creative and adaptive.

Where resources are made available for the provision of care.

Where we achieve good health and well-being for all.

I know that we can slowly and surely change the health care system. It is possible. The future of nursing and health is in our hands and it’s up to us to build a better one for all—including for future generations that are coming behind us.

We need to rise up now as young people, as young nurses, and find solutions to the small problems, because a journey starts with one step. We need to rise up and start making changes, however small they may be.

Zipporah is a young nurse, currently working as a nurse intern at Kitui County Referral Hospital in Kenya. She is the first vice chairperson of the Kenya Students and Novice Nurses (KESNNUR), a chapter under the National Nurses Association of Kenya.

Wali Coulibaly: Cleaning supplies are essential.

What is essential for me is the right work equipment, because these days, it’s better to protect yourself and your family and loved ones. For this, you mostly need boxes, gloves, bleach, soap, and whatever else is needed. Because if the place is not clean you can catch diseases yourself. This is what’s essential.

Wali is a cleaner at a health center in Mali.

Edwin Ikhuoria: Health workers are essential.

When a nation doesn’t have a healthy population, there is no way to pull people out of poverty.

We have seen how a health crisis has turned into an economic crisis and millions of households have lost their livelihoods. Africa has experienced an economic shock that has resulted in the worst economic recession in 25 years and have uprooted the gains we have made to eradicate poverty over the last 15 years.

While we have seen our fragile health system stretched to its limits, the real heroes on the front lines—our health workers—have made such amazing sacrifices to save lives while putting their own lives at risk.

Edwin is the executive director of ONE Africa and he leads ONE’s advocacy work across the continent.

Percy Akuetteh: Music is essential.

In a normal day, I go to the hospital and we either work in the lab or at the research center. After I’m done, I go back and do the one thing I like doing the most and that is music. We have a band called SoulBand and we did a COVID-19 rap song.

When the band sat down and decided to make the music, we were faced with the task of what to do, so we created something that could inspire people. Something that was telling the story of what was happening at that moment. Something that could create an awareness of what to do, how to protect yourself, something that was praising health workers and people who contributed immensely to supply masks and so on to deprived areas.

Percy is a PhD student in surgery at the First Affiliated Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University in China. As well as a health professional he is the lead singer of SoulBand.

Fenni Indilakomwa Shikomba: Overcoming fear is essential.

I’m a nurse who helps adolescents and young people with HIV services.

We had to keep providing services during COVID-19. At the beginning, it was scary because the virus was new and everyone had to stay home, except for essential services. We were so afraid that if the virus hit Africa, we were going to die, because we were lacking personal protective equipment. The scariest part was that the community didn’t obey the COVID-19 guidelines. They would come to the hospital without masks, without sanitizing their hands properly, and there was no social distancing because they would come in large numbers. Despite this, we still had to continue to provide services.

It was very scary for us. Later on, information and research became available and the fear started to fade. So we continued giving services because we hold that noble responsibility and duty for the nation.

Fenni is a registered nurse and has over 15 years of experience working in the public and private hospitals of Namibia providing HIV/AIDS health services.

Issiaka Diakite: Fuel is essential.

I’ve done this job for 14 years now. The main thing for me is that there is fuel in the vehicle and that the vehicle is in good condition and that’s it. We have no problem with the people we transport.

Issiaka is an ambulance driver in Mali.

Muhammad Ssebugwawo: Helping others is essential.

During COVID, I was going to a health center for data collection. When we reached the health center, there was an emergency with two ladies who were anemic. One of them was pregnant and about to give birth. She could not do anything. She was at the point of dying. So I decided to talk to the colleague I was with at the time to rush to Mbale Hospital and get blood because there was no transport, they had stopped all transport that morning. It was only us.

They allowed me to drive to Mbale Hospital to get blood, but when we reached the blood bank there was no blood. We had nothing to do. I had to talk to the doctors there and asked, “How can I donate blood for these people and take it to them?”

They checked my blood group and it matched the pregnant woman’s. So they took my blood, the blood came from me, and I took it to them at the health center. It saved their lives.

Muhammad is a driver with IntraHealth’s Uganda team.


These health workers all spoke at SwitchPoint Essential on March 26 and April 7. Click here for more information about SwitchPoint.