Health Worker Week - Strengthening the health and care workforce to deliver quality health care and universal health coverage
2 - 8 April, 2023
Join us in our call to world leaders to strengthen and invest in the health and care workforce ahead of the September 2023 UN high-level meeting on universal health coverage.
Skilled health workers are the cornerstone of strong, resilient health systems. They provide promotive, preventive, curative and palliative health services in times of crisis and calm. Yet to make progress on universal health coverage - including reaching everyone, everywhere, when health services are needed - 10 million more health workers are needed.
A strong, well-equipped health workforce is the backbone of an emergency response in times of crisis, and essential to preventing disruptions to essential services. The Covid-19 pandemic further exposed the impact of health worker shortages on health systems. The pandemic reinforced the importance of deploying and retaining health workers in a way that they can do their jobs safely and supporting health workers’ mental health. Countries with a strong, resilient health work force faced less essential service disruptions during the pandemic.
Well-trained, well-paid health workers are the backbone of strong primary healthcare and universal health coverage. To uphold quality of care, we must invest in health workers, their pay, their quality education and lifelong training, and ensure that health workers are well equipped with adequate and necessary resources.
Women make up 70 percent of the global health workforce. Yet only 25 percent of senior and leadership roles are held by women. A stronger commitment to achieving gender equality and more women in leadership is needed to ensure UHC meets the needs and priorities of all genders.
The 2023 High-Level Meeting on UHC provides countries and all stakeholders an opportunity to reinvigorate progress towards UHC and invest in health workers. Action-oriented outcomes to strengthen health systems provide the basis for implementation and accountability, building on the 2019 Political Declaration.
Show your support for health workers during health worker week by sharing your stories on social media, and call on world leaders at the September UN High-level meetings on health to prioritize the health and care workforce, using the hashtags #UHCHLM and #HealthWorkerWeek. Find more resources and a social media toolkit to support your advocacy and work here.
How the health and care workforce are key to delivering universal health coverage.
Ms. Tigist Molla, Midwife Nurse, Ethiopia
Ms. Tigist Molla is a committed and compassionate Midwife Nurse in Afar Region of Ethiopia, working relentlessly to provide health care in an area where services are extremely limited. Ms. Molla was trained through Amref Africa’s A’agoa project, a Sexual and Reproducitve Health five-year initiative to support pregnant women in remote areas. Using portable medical backpacks and portable ultrasound machines, Ms. Molla works to reach the most vulnerable in hard to reach communities.
“My favorite part of the job is providing health services in the community I grew up in and, in particular, supporting pregnant women. It is so exciting for me to support the community I belong to. I know their culture, understand their language and many of their norms. It is also easy for me to help out and easy for them to open up and share.”
Before the project was launched in 2017, ultrasound devices were exclusive to specialized health professionals and confined mainly to hospitals. Now the program is being implemented in seven districts of the Afar Regional State, enabling Ms. Molla and midwives like her to bring health care services to those hardest to reach.
Through her training and frequent clinical mentorship, Ms. Molla acquired the knowledge and skills to confidently refer high-risk mothers to higher level health facilities for early intervention. “The periodic mentoring and coaching provided by senior health professionals helped strengthen my skills and boost my confidence. I had no capacity or equipment to identify pregnancy anomalies before the training,” she says.
She is passionate about the need to reach communities where they live, regardless of location. “There is no place we can call unreachable. Communities live there, so it is reachable and we can provide the services they need. That is exciting. We can travel to the remotest parts of Ethiopia. If more medical devices become available and health workers get the training we need to operate, we can widen our reach to support our communities.”
In addition to the necessary skills and equipment access, health workers working in rural and remote regions like Afar need also to be willing to live among the communities they serve, says Ms. Molla.
“As long as we are committed to working in the community and living with them, understanding what they need and engaging with them to change their situation, we can improve things. The capacity to do this work at community level has really come as a surprise for me.”
Ms. Molla is committed to working towards the achievement of Universal Health Coverage, realistic about the inequity that is currently preventing that from happening and pragmatic about the ability to roll out ultrasound programs like hers on a wider scale.
“If more and more medical devices are available and health workers get the training to operate, we can widen our reach and support our communities. I serve pastoral communities who lack even basic health services. They should be treated fairly to get essential services for us to claim that we are achieving Universal Health Coverage.”
She believes that health services are a basic human right and health services should reach all communities, including those in remote areas. She has a practical message for decision makers to help inform political commitments.
“I suggest they go down to communities and see what is lacking, see what the health workers lack in terms of resources that they can use to provide essential health services. We need more resources to reach more communities who live in places where there is no infrastructure. Decision makers must make a political commitment to address these issues”.
Find out more about Ms.Molla and her story here.
Prof. Dr. Maha El Rabbat, Professor of Public Health at Cairo University, the former Minister of Health and Population for Egypt
As a Professor of Public Health at Cairo University, the former Minister of Health and Population for Egypt, and one of WHO Director- General’s Special Envoys on COVID -19, Professor Dr. Maha El Rabbat has had an accomplished and varied career. Responsibility clearly energizes Dr. El Rabbat and allows her to follow her calling to improve the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable and marginalized.
Growing up, Dr. El Rabbat was influenced by her surroundings, her family, and professors; it was their commitment to serving people’s needs that appealed to her. She is keen to give her parents credit for the way they instilled in her the need for passion and purpose in whatever work she undertook. “No matter what I was doing, it was important to them that I was passionate and committed to learn, gain experience and come to excel .”
Throughout her career, she has advocated for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and stressed the importance of fairness. “Achieving UHC, with its universal focus, is important from a development, a human rights, and a fairness perspective in meeting people’s health needs. Low- and middle-income countries need to reach a stage where they are near to an equal footing with the rest of the world.”
Her nomination as Minister of Health and Population in Egypt, she says, was both a privilege, an honor and a turning point in her career. Another key milestone has been her opportunity to serve as one of WHO DG Special Envoys on COVID-19. “I felt like all the prior experiences I had gained throughout my career had led me to this point. The pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty and loss, but it allowed those of us dedicated to public health to sharpen our perspectives and renew our commitment to the goal of better health for everyone.”
Dr. El Rabbat is a strong proponent of community- led decision-making in health. Though such mandates exist for national governing bodies and at global level, she highlights the gap in that representation at grassroots level. “Real participation in decision-making and hands-on implementation by communities is needed. The more vulnerable they are, the more they need to be represented. Two- way communication is thus very important. Everyone has the right to understand and communicate and to be part of the process and responsible for the outcome. We have to have the same vision to make this a reality.”
Her aspiration for the future is to ensure strong multi- sectoral cooperation and alignment on health programs that tackle the vulnerabilities inherent in the determinants of health. “It is so evident how poverty, education, food, water, environment, job status, marriage status, and others–how all of these factors affect health. To work to improve quality of life, we need to tackle these issues to plan for the future we aspire to.”
Dr. El Rabbat is clear about the type of vision that will help support the pathway to UHC. “Contextualization is very important at this point to move forward. We have to put greater emphasis on the roles played by health care workers and community health workers, especially women, in building the resilience of health systems, and the empowerment of communities. Putting health workers at the center of health system investment and investing more in their training, in positioning them into systems, in building their capacities and capabilities, in their safety, is vital work.”
“The pandemic has shown us what works in terms of saving lives and building resilience. Leadership and political commitment are key to advancement as shown in public health initiatives and the solidarity and unity we saw during the response to the pandemic.”
Find out more about Prof. Dr. El Rabbat and her story here.
Ms. Molla and Prof. Dr. El Rabbat were in October 2022 recognized as Heroines of Health by UHC2030 partners Women in Global Health. The Heroines of Health Awards began in 2017 to amplify the platform for women’s contributions to health, which are immense, but go largely unrecognized.The diverse group of Heroines selected in 2022 come from Africa, Americas, Middle East, Asia and Europe and from different specialties within the health sector. See all Heroines of Health and follow the work of our partners Women in Global Health.
Action Agenda of the UHC Movement - Action Area 4: Strengthen the Health and Care Workforce to Deliver Quality Health Care
Health worker stories - SRHR Togo. From our partner Pathfinder https://www.pathfinder.org/world-health-worker-week-two-health-workers-amplify-sexual-and-reproductive-health-in-togo/
Health worker stories - Community health workers Uganda. From our partner Pathfinder
Covid-19 and the health workforce