Broadly Supporting Health Workers

by Temitayo Ifafore, Health Workforce Technical Advisor, USAID

Health workers have been the center of attention the past year.   Some of the attention pointed to the hazards of being a health worker: Human Rights Watch released a report that chronicles attacks against health workers and health facilities, and sobering WHO estimates foretell a 12.9 million professional health worker shortage by 2035. This past year has also been one of tremendous accolades for health workers: Time Magazine named ebola workers as “person[s] of the year”, praising the courageous health workers that tirelessly worked to care for patients.  This past year also saw the expansion of the Health Workers Count, the advocacy campaign launched by the Global Health Workforce Alliance to bring attention to issues around the health workforce and catalyze political commitment.  The attention given to health workers demonstrates one thing: supporting health workers must be a top priority.


But who are the health workers and how can they be supported? WHO defines health workers as “all people engaged in actions whose primary intent is to enhance health” (WHO - World Health Report 2006). This definition includes physicians, nurses and midwives, but also laboratory technicians, public health professionals, community health workers, pharmacists, managers and all other support workers whose main function relates to delivering preventive, promotive or curative health services.   This expansive definition means that those who want to support to health workers often do so by cadre, such as the One Million Community Health Worker Campaign and the International Council of Nurses, by worker function such as the Frontline Health Worker Coalition or by skillset needed for service provision such as family planning, HIV, maternal and child health and other health services.  These approaches risk fragmenting support to health workers.


One approach to support health workers that transcends national borders, scopes of practice and cadre is through leadership and management development.  Health workers at every level can apply problem-solving skills to plan and implement change.  This edition of the LMG Newsletter focuses on gains made by health workers that have used the leadership and management development approach.  We urge readers to glean lessons from these experiences and keep them in mind as we enter World Health Worker Week 2015. 

LMG also welcome feedback from you on the theme of health workers—provide feedback at [email protected] to let us know what supporting health workers means to you!