We traveled to the seventy-second World Health Assembly (#WHA72) last week against the background of a world that is facing global health crises across multiple fronts. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the ongoing Ebola outbreak—the second largest in history—has resulted in over 1,200 deaths so far. Health workers and health centers have been repeatedly attacked, hindering efforts to provide treatment and care and contain the virus. Antimicrobial resistance is becoming a global problem, threatening treatment to common infectious diseases and risking patient care and health. It is the next emerging epidemic. There remain challenges in reaching the last mile with global vaccination campaigns. This is further compounded by the frustrating re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles. There is a projected 18 million health worker shortfall. Achieving universal health coverage and Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3) by 2030 cannot happen without this crucial workforce.
With this is mind, and given nationalist recidivism amongst the world’s largest democracies, it is easy to see how #WHA72 could have been a study in frustration and even hopelessness. Yet, as we wrapped up the week, we could not help but feel optimistic about the future of global health.
Why are we optimistic?
Outside of the formal WHA proceedings, we were enthused by the bilateral meetings and events on the sidelines of the assembly. The discussions ranged from accelerating vaccine delivery to securing health systems from pandemic and biosecurity threats to supporting improvements in digital health and technical advances. In all this, the need to train skilled health professionals so as to ensure health for all was ubiquitous
We had the opportunity to meet with leaders from a number of countries and within WHO. Based on our conversations, it is clear that there is both the necessary focus and political will to fulfill the UHC commitments and accelerate the primary health care (PHC) momentum established last year in Astana. Chief amongst these commitments is the understanding that there can be no UHC without PHC and addressing the global health workforce shortage.
This unanimity was on full display on Thursday, May 23rd when we co-sponsored a high-level event titled Invest in Health Workers in collaboration with WHO, the Global Health Workforce Network, Last Mile Health, and Intrahealth International. Our panelists President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Health Workforce; Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO; Dr. Jim Campbell, WHO Global Health Workforce Network; and Honorable Wilhelmina Jallah, Minister of Health, Liberia talked about ways to advance human resources for health. President Sirleaf perhaps said it best, “It’s not support, not give, not finance, it’s invest in health workers.”
That evening, the statement was met with applause. At WHA, the sentiment was backed by action when the assembly approved without amendment a resolution titled Community Health Workers Delivering Primary Health Care. It seeks to help address the global health workforce shortage and ensure that community health workers are well-trained, supervised, and recognized for the work that they do.
The consensus on the need to make the critical investment in the global health workforce is important to realize the promise of UHC and achievement of SDG 3 and many others. There is significant work ahead as the focus shifts to the UHC high-level meeting at the upcoming UN General Assembly and building political will amongst country leaders. We remain optimistic and are glad that were were able to participate in WHA and contribute to this important moment.
#ICYMI: Read our daily updates from #WHA72:
Opinion piece: It’s Time to Be Impatient, to Achieve Health Equity
Key happenings at WHA: Highlights from the First 3 Days
Seed’s statement on the health workforce technical briefing: Investing in Jobs for #HealthForAll
Seed co-sponsored high-level event: Invest in Health Workers