To mark World Health Workers Week, Jessica Kuehne, health advocacy officer at RESULTS, discusses the critical role health workers play in delivering healthcare around the world.
How many times have you come into contact with a health worker in the last year? If you’re like me, this would amount to multiple times – I see an optometrist to get my eyes checked, I went to the dentist when I had a tooth ache, I made multiple visits to my local GP when I tore my calf muscle playing volleyball. If you’re like my friend, who avoids doctors at all costs, you may not see a health worker of any kind regularly, but even he eventually needed the help of doctors and nurses when he developed tonsillitis and had to be admitted to A&E.
It’s easy to forget that our health system has health workers who immunise us against serious childhood illnesses, that we have midwives who safely deliver babies to the benefit of both mother and child, and that we have doctors and surgeons who can provide emergency care when needed. Yet 57 countries around the world are facing a severe human resources for health crisis and 83 countries don’t have enough health workers to provide even basic health services:
- The world is short 7.2 million health workers needed in order to provide essential health services.
- Africa has 11 percent of the world’s population but makes up a quarter of the global disease burden. At the same time, it has just 3 percent of the global health workforce.
- 51 percent of births in Africa 41 percent of births in Asia are not attended by a midwife or other trained health worker.
- Eleven countries in Sub-Saharan African do not have any medical schools, and a further 24 countries only have one.
A country example of how this plays out:
Ethiopia is a country with a population of over 90 million. It has just over 2,000 physicians and fewer than 3,000 nurses. In contrast the UK, with a population of roughly 60 million, has over 170,000 physicians and nearly 600,000 nurses.
The UK has a nurse to patient ratio of 1:8. In contrast, India needs another 2.4 million nurses just to reach a nurse to patient ratio of 1:500.
All of the health issues that RESULTS works on – tuberculosis, child survival and nutrition – depend on having trained, supported, employed and motivated health workers who can provide health services. Health workers are essential to vaccinating children to give them life-long protection against disease, they are vital to diagnosing people with TB and supporting them during their long and arduous treatment, and they are crucial to providing care to acutely malnourished children.
This week, let’s celebrate the critical role health workers play in delivering healthcare, and let’s take this opportunity to call on the UK Government to help developing countries scale up their health spending and use these funds to strengthen its health workforce. Because there can be no health without health workers.
Some health worker highlights:
- India is now polio-free thanks to 2.4 million health workers who vaccinated 172 million children.
- Meet Maxwell, a Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) in rural Malawi.
- Manju Mehta, on why being a health worker is important to her.
- Check out Riders for Health bringing TB care to rural populations.
- Browse through some of the Real Awards honouring health workers worldwide.
- Every year, 1 million babies die the day they are born. Why? Because many don’t have a trained, equipped and supported health worker there.