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To Tackle Noncommunicable Diseases, We Must Invest in Frontline Health Workers

A new policy report explores the challenges we face in addressing NCDs, and offers recommendations to overcome them.

Cancer kills more people in low- and middle-income countries than HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. In Kenya, for instance, it’s the third-leading cause of morbidity. The country’s government wants to make cancer screening a priority in all its public health facilities, though a shortage of health workers who are trained to conduct the screenings has slowed down their efforts.

And around the world, emerging health crises such as SARS, Ebola, and now Zika often leave health systems scrambling, and draw resources and attention away from cancer and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

A new policy report calls for investing in frontline health workers to tackle NCDs.

Frontline health workers don’t yet have the training or support they need to tackle cancer, heart disease, or diabetes on a global scale. Many aren’t prepared to provide the complex care people who live with chronic NCDs need. And as the burden of NCDs in low- and middle-income countries grows, so do the shortage and maldistribution of frontline health workers.

As a result, our global health progress on NCDs is stunted.

Now a new policy report by IntraHealth International, in partnership with the Medtronic Foundation, explores these challenges—and offers recommendations to overcome them.

The Case for Frontline Health Workers in Addressing Noncommunicable Diseases Globally advocates for leaders to invest in health workforce strategies that enable countries to make the most of their frontline health workers, including giving health workers the tools and resources they need to reduce the burden of NCDs.

When adequately trained and supported, frontline health workers can raise awareness and promote healthy behaviors, conduct screenings, monitor symptoms, administer medication, provide referrals to facilities, conduct follow-up monitoring, and track health outcomes.

As countries develop and refine their health workforce strategies to align with various global action plans and milestones, the report states, country leaders must ensure that NCD prevention, control, and management are central components of these strategies. This includes:

  • Training frontline health workers on NCD prevention, control, and management.
  • Integrating NCD prevention, control, and management into the scopes of work of frontline health workers, including those who provide other service- and disease-specific interventions.
  • Refining task-shifting policies to address barriers to success, especially the potential to overburden frontline health workers, and ensure that protocols for NCDs are included in these policies.

Check out the report for more recommendations, case studies, and analysis: The Case for Frontline Health Workers in Addressing Noncommunicable Diseases Globally