On May 25, on the sidelines of the 74th World Health Assembly (WHA), Seed Global Health and our Act for Health Workers campaign partners hosted a conversation on investments needed to holistically protect and support health and care workers. Below are the closing remarks delivered by our Regional Director, Strategy and Innovation and Country Director Dr. Bonaventure Ahaisibwe that focus on the urgent need to learn from the past, strengthen the present, and fortify the future.
At the opening of the 73rd WHA, Her Royal Highness Princess Muna Al-Hussein made a powerful call to action prior to the announcement of 2021 as the International Year of Health and Care Workers which is themed Protect. Invest. Together. In her words she stated; “Applause without action is no longer acceptable, recognition without rights and remuneration is not sufficient. A resolution without implementation is not governance. Even the best strategies and plans will not succeed without the people to deliver them.”
Nature has taught us a lot of tough lessons in the last couple of years and we owe it to ourselves and the next generation to pick up the pieces and emerge more resilient. We lost over 500 health workers in six months in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and saw an unprecedented 23% reduction in health service delivery. Just when we thought we had seen the worst, COVID-19 struck. It was heart breaking to hear Dr. Tedros announce yesterday, in his opening remarks of the 74th WHA, that at least 115,000 health and care workers have so far died from the same. In some countries, health worker infections have accounted for over 19% of all COVID-19 cases.
Coming out of the devastation by the first wave of COVID-19, the silver lining is that the whole world now knows too well what it means to leave our first line of defense—the frontline health workers—vulnerable to such exposure.
Awareness, however, is only a means to the end. We need to walk the talk. We need to:
- Ensure access to vaccines is equitable
- Train frontline health workers in infection control and equip them with the necessary personal protective equipment
- Address the long working hours
- Challenge communities, through thought leaders and influencers, to denounce violence against health workers
- Hold governments accountable to international commitments they have ratified in support of the health workforce
- Engage legislators and ministries of finance to ensure sufficient funding is appropriated for health workforce priorities
Let us proactively cultivate a new narrative for decades to come. The health workforce is not an expenditure. It is a cost-effective investment, an economic imperative, and an integral part of the social transformation required to future proof the globe from disasters like COVID-19. 115,000 health worker deaths to COVID-19 amounts to over $30 billion lost in potential lifetime return on investment.
Investing in the health workers increases productivity and job prospects as well as promotes human capital development, ultimately driving economic growth. We have critical shortages of health workers and we need to protect them jealously as a first line of defense for our population. This is a collective action.
When world leaders came together for the UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), they agreed unanimously that to achieve UHC, we should leave no one behind.
We are running a tight race. We will do our part and pass on the baton. But we should do it very diligently so that we can pass it on to the next generation with pride. We should each be an ambassador—find spaces at the table and open doors for more advocates for a safer and fulfilled health workforce, empowered to protect the population.
As health workers we should not only be role models of ethics and competence, so that the world has reason to see hope in us, but also a voice that educates the world on what has to be in place for health workers to perform their roles.
I am very proud that we are not walking this journey alone. We are involving communities and the next generation of health workers in defining priorities and shaping the narrative.
As we look to the future, Seed Global Health is pleased to support a movement of health professional students promoting patient centered care across Africa. The movement, aptly named Patient Centered Care Movement, Africa will be launched on June 24, 2021. It derives its roots from the 34th General Assembly and Scientific Conference of the Federation of Africa Medical Students’ Association.
Like these students, we all need to show up, step up, speak up, and above all model the image of the health and care worker that we are selling to the world. The time is now!
Join us on Thursday, June 24, 2021, for the Launch of the Patient Centered Care Movement, Africa. REGISTER HERE.
#ICYMI: You can watch the full conversation here or below: