Global Health Organizations Urge U.S. Government to Focus on Frontline Health Workers

Calling it the most cost-effective way to save lives, address AIDS and other global health challenges, and advance U.S. interests, a new coalition of fifteen global health organizations that includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Partners In Health, and Save the Children has issued a report calling for strategic investment in frontline health workers in the developing world.

Formally launched on Wednesday, the Washington, D.C.-based Frontline Health Workers Coalition is urging the U.S. government to secure bilateral and multilateral funding by September 2015 to train an additional 250,000 community health workers and midwives as well as doctors and nurses working at the community level, and to boost support for existing health workers. According to the report, Frontline Health Workers: The Best Way to Save Lives, Accelerate Progress on Global Health, and Help Advance U.S. Interests (8 pages, PDF), frontline health workers are the only link to life-saving services such as maternal and newborn care, child health, and management of communicable and chronic diseases for millions of children and their families.

Addressing the shortage of frontline health workers is a good investment, the report further argues, because they are relatively inexpensive to train and support; are less likely to migrate in search of higher pay; are trusted in their communities and deliver culturally appropriate services to those who need it most; and have been proven to help reduce preventable deaths and improve population health in a number of countries, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Nepal.

To that end, eight corporate partners, including GlaxoSmithKline and the Medtronic and Merck Company foundations, have agreed to coordinate with the coalition to increase the number and capacity of trained health workers in developing countries.

"The world has experienced dramatic declines in deaths thanks largely to the care provided by these local health heroes," said coalition chair Mary Beth Powers. "But despite this progress, nearly twenty-one thousand children still die every day, most from preventable causes, and a thousand girls and women die each day in pregnancy and childbirth. Investing in the technologies and medicines to prevent and treat diseases is important but insufficient. Simply put, without health workers to deliver the life-saving medicines and information, there is no pathway to good health."