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Thank a Health Worker — Unsung Heroes of Global Health

This is an excerpt of a post that originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

When was the last time you thanked your health care provider? We often forget how much care, guidance, and support they give, and the sacrifices they make to restore us to good health.

Health workers—whether a doctor, nurse, midwife, or physician's assistant—are an integral part of a well-functioning health system and necessary for the delivery of quality health care not only in the United States, but all around the world.

As the world comes together to celebrate World Health Worker Week, we are reminded of the critical role health workers play both in the developed world as well as in some of the poorest countries plagued with an unimaginable shortage of health services and limited access to care.

The entire continent of Africa has only 4% of the world's health workforce, yet shares 25% of the world's disease burden.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 1 billion people have little to no access to health workers. This is due to a global shortage of skilled, motivated, and supported health workers. The entire continent of Africa has only 4 percent of the world's health workforce, yet shares 25 percent of the world's disease burden.

Shortages are coupled with severe imbalances in geographic distribution of health workers. Skilled health workers are disproportionately located in urban centers and wealthier regions of countries, limiting access to quality health care for millions of people who live in rural and poor areas worldwide.

This presents a major development challenge and barrier to meeting the health goals of ending preventable child and maternal deaths and reaching an AIDS-free generation, two major global health priorities at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Human resources for health (HRH), considered a core building block of a health system and defined by the WHO as "all people engaged in actions whose primary intent is to enhance health," is a relative newcomer to the field of global health and development. The health worker challenges that countries have faced and continue to face today were first recognized and brought to light by the 2004 Joint Learning Initiative for Human Resources for Health. Commitment of countries to address health worker challenges has been paramount to countries' ability to make progress in improving the availability, accessibility, and quality of their health workers over the past decade.

In 2013, country governments and other stakeholders and partners gathered at the Third Global Forum for HRH in Recife, Brazil, to announce a new and reenergized commitment to HRH that is critical as we move into the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and universal health coverage agendas. Working with WHO and the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA), USAID is coleading a consultation to help drive forward a reenergized agenda for HRH that builds upon dialogue in Recife.

Continue reading at the Huffington Post.