One Million Community Health Workers

One Million Community Health Workers

New Campaign to Train One Million Community Health Workers for Sub-Saharan Africa
Phiona carries bag with medical supplies for her household visits.

President Paul Kagame, Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez and Professor Jeffrey Sachs announce new healthcare initiative targeting rural Africa

Jan 24: DAVOS, Switzerland. Across sub-Saharan Africa, community health workers using mobile phones and broadband access to sophisticated medical resources are delivering health care to where it is most needed, among the rural poor. A new campaign aims to greatly expand that effort by training, equipping and deploying one million health care workers by the end of 2015, reaching millions of underserved people.

At the World Economic Forum today, Rwanda President Paul Kagame and Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez joined Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs in announcing the campaign, which will be overseen by a steering committee at the Earth Institute and will be run through the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network as part of its Solutions Initiative. The effort is also supported by the UN MDG Advocates and the UN Broadband Commission, both of which are co-chaired by President Kagame.

“As President of Rwanda and Co-chair of the Millennium Development Goals Advocates Group and the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Development, I wholeheartedly endorse the ‘One Million Community Health Worker Campaign’ to scale up community health workers throughout Africa,” said Kagame. “In Rwanda we have seen the ability of community health workers to improve public health and believe that this initiative can serve the cause of public health throughout Africa. This campaign will support many ongoing public-private partnerships, United Nations initiatives, and African Union efforts to meet the health Millennium Development Goals.”

At the event, Jimenez announced that Novartis will donate $1 million to support the training and development of the cadre of new health workers.

“Access to medicines and health care, especially in rural areas, remains the most significant obstacle to the provision of healthcare for all,” said Jimenez. “In this respect, the One Million Community Health Worker campaign is going to make a huge difference. Trained community health workers — equipped with cell phones that allow them to get telemedical advice — can transform the rural health situation.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, around 10 percent of children die before reaching the age of five. Maternal death rates are high. Many people suffer unnecessarily from preventable and treatable diseases, from malaria and diarrhea to tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Many of these residents would otherwise have little or no access to the most fundamental aspects of modern medicine. Many countries are struggling to make progress toward the health-related Millennium Development Goals partly  because so many people live in rural areas beyond the reach of modern health care.

“The campaign will transform health care delivery across the continent and help some of the world’s poorest nations meet the health-related Millennium Development Goals,” said Sachs. “We are proud to be working with Novartis to launch this campaign and to work with African leaders to develop huge new cadres of community health workers to reach the rural populations.”

Community health worker programs have been in place for a number of years, through government health programs and other non-governmental initiatives, like the Millennium Villages Project. In addition to providing basic treatment and preventative care, the health workers keep track of disease outbreaks and overall public health, and offer a vital link to the broader health care system of doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinics.

While they have limited clinical training, the health workers are supervised by more clinically skilled members of the health care system. Scaling in this way allows an opportunity to tailor the program to each nation’s particular needs and systems.

The new campaign will work with governments and aid agencies to finance and train the health workers, each of whom would serve an average of 650 rural inhabitants, at an estimated cost of $6.58 per patient per year. This adds up to an estimated $2.5 billion, which includes funding already being spent by NGOs and governments on these programs. These estimates fall within projected governmental health budgetary constraints and are within the boundaries of donor assistance already pledged and anticipated.

The campaign will work closely with national governments in Africa and other NGOs, bilateral aid organizations and UN agencies. The campaign aims to boost the Community Health Worker programs and policies of many leading institutions, including: GAVI Alliance, Glaxo Smith Kline, Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, RESULTS, Roll Back Malaria, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNAIDS, UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, United Nations, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, USAID, WHO, the World Bank, Millennium Villages Project, and Millennium Promise. For a list of participants in the campaign please visit: http://1millionhealthworkers.org/partners/.

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For more information on the One Million Community Health Workers campaign, visit: http://1millionhealthworkers.org/

To learn more about the Novartis Foundation, please visit: www.novartisfoundation.org

Press contacts: Erin Trowbridge, trowbridge@ei.columbia.edu

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7 Comments

  1. Fred

    Empowering of Health workers is a good move, as this has proven to be working in Rwanda to curb the disease outbreak, sensitizing population on many other health issues, these are the same people who live with the community and are advocating on key healthy issues.
    Thanks to our President Paul Kagame and the team for the strategic Move to spread the word across sub-saharan region.

  2. Michael Cotton

    This project sensibly concentrates on workers who are actually in the community. However their empowerment to sensitize people to illness presupposes the existence of a viable health system, especially one where referral up the chain to tertiary hospital level, exists. This is, lamentably, not the case in most LMICs. Thus the community health worker, or clinical officer, needs to be more pro-active. Since the rise of non-communicable diseases is already overtaking infectious disease contributing to the burden of illness in LMICs, concentration must be placed on the former. This means, in simple terms, Surgery. About 2,000,000,000 people have absolutely NO access to surgical care, and will never have unless this is available in the districts. The only people in sufficient quantity to do this in the districts are clinical officers. Thus these need to be trained to do surgery. It is as simple as that. Others may make it complex, by saying it can’t be done, or it’s against the rules. But if they were the ones who would be prepared to risk a 1 in 5 mortality from childbirth, or to accept dying from simple appendicitis, or to remain disabled from untreated simple fractures, or to walk on all fours just because no-one was there to splint their club feet at birth, then their words may carry weight. But the people in the districts of LMICs are not concerned who does their Caesarean section, as long as the result is good. Neither should we be. It is up to us to make sure that by 2015, these clinical officers get training to perform those 15 ESSENTIAL PROCEDURES defined by the International Collaboration for Essential Surgery, Otherwise millions will continue to die or be disabled unnecessarily, to the eternal shame of the Health Community at large.