By Dr. Vanessa Kerry, CEO, Seed Global Health
Here’s to World Health Worker Week! You might not be familiar with this important holiday, but you should be.
There is a crisis in the global health workforce. Right now, there is a gap of more than 8 million health workers globally. And if we do nothing, we will face a shortage of 18 million health workers by 2030. That’s 18 million people who will not be delivering babies, giving vaccinations, treating diseases like Zika, nor conducting surgeries. They simply will not exist in the health workforce.
While many efforts have done incredible work to improve health – training community health workers, increasing access to medications and building new facilities – there has been less focus on the skilled doctors, nurses and midwives who are needed to support those frontline and community health workers, deliver the medications properly, and walk the halls of those facilities. And unfortunately, there has not been enough of a focus on those who can teach and ensure a pipeline of well trained physicians and nurses who can provide care but also teach their successors. Seed Global Health focuses on this exact issue.
While this work is intensive, and takes time, it is fundamental to breaking the cycle of poor health, poverty, and instability in many parts of the world. Investments in better health are investments in strong economies and increased global security. Improved health is a prerequisite for long-term economic development and political stability. For many households, health is the difference between whether you live above or below the poverty line, whether your children can attend school, or whether you have access to clean water. When local governments are able to provide basic services — such as health care — it can build trust and promote stability. Data show that countries who invest in health – recipients of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) or Southeast Asian countries who invested in health – are safer and have more economic growth. And in 2016, the High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth, chaired by François Hollande and Jacob Zuma, presented findings that investing in the health workforce is not only necessary, but a clearly productive economic investment: the commission calculated returns on investment in health to be 9 to 1, attributing nearly a quarter of economic growth between 2000 and 2011 in low-income and middle-income countries could be attributed to improvements to health.
Ebola is a most recent and poignant example of the power of investing in vulnerable health systems and the people who work in it. The 2014 West African outbreak happened at the scope and scale it did because there were not enough healthcare professionals to sound the alarm, mount the response and stop the disease early in its tracks. Instead, Ebola infected tens of thousands of people and strained local economies into decimation. For just this reason, Seed is now partnering with the Government of Liberia to help train needed health professionals and build on their national human resources for health plan. Stronger health care and better health outcomes will help prevent epidemics and stop their spread at the origin, which is both more cost-effective long-term, and an investment in local health leadership.
To date, our volunteers have trained over 8,300 doctors nurses and midwives in five African countries – and out ultimate goal is to work ourselves out of a job. We believe in a future in which every country has a robust health workforce that is able to meet the health needs of its population. And we truly believe that by educating the next generation of health professionals and health educators, we can strengthen the pipeline of local healthcare leadership and help close this significant gap.
I grew up in a house of public service that challenged to always think about how we can engage in our global community. And now as a mother and physician, I feel the intense commitment to live up to that challenge. It is my passion and my firm belief that by investing in skilled health professionals, we can create a world where every child, adolescent, woman, and man can have access to better health and a brighter future.