Reflections on World Health Worker Week

A community health worker takes the pulse of a patient in Rajasthan, India. She is one of a cadre of female health workers that goes door to door, delivering services to communities that otherwise wouldn't have access to quality care.  

A community health worker takes the pulse of a patient in Rajasthan, India. She is one of a cadre of female health workers that goes door to door, delivering services to communities that otherwise wouldn't have access to quality care.  

Last week, the global health community celebrated health workers around the world during World Health Worker Week 2015. The week was a chance to applaud the incredible work of health workers in strengthening health systems, as well as an opportunity to raise awareness about the current shortage of health workers in many countries. With 1.3 million community health workers (CHWs) currently, the WHO estimates that we need 4.25 million CHWs globally in order to achieve the Millenium Development Goals. Organizations like One Million Community Health Workers Campaign and Frontline Health Workers Coalition (FHWC) exist to try and bridge this gap, by advocating, supporting, and legitimizing the work of health workers around the world.

At Broad Street Maps, we talk a lot about CHWs. We talk about their power to bridge gaps in health care access and service delivery. And we talk about how we can, as Broad Street, attempt to develop a piece of technology that supports and bolsters their incredible and live-saving work.

What is a Community Health Worker?

Whether referring to community health workers, frontline health workers, village health workers, health promoters, community health volunteers, or one of the many other names given to the (mainly female) cadre of health workers around the globe, the overall goal is the same: improve the health of communities around the world.

The FHWC describes frontline health workers as, “...The first and often the only link to health care for millions of people living in the developing world. They are the most immediate and cost-effective way to save lives and improve health. This is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Two of the earliest and most successful example of CHW programs were implemented in Southeast Asia, one in Bangladesh and one in rural India. BRAC (originally standing for Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee) was established in 1972 and now has over 80,000 CHWs who focus on treating two of the deadliest diseases in the country: TB and diarrheal diseases. BRAC has become a model for successful CHW programs across the world.

In India, CRHP Jamkhed has grown more slowly than BRAC but with similar intentions. CRHP focuses on training women who are illiterate and of the lowest caste to deliver primary health care, specifically surrounding antenatal and infant care. CRHP has also established a training program that attracts NGO leaders and government employees from across India and beyond.

The frontline health worker model has proven itself to not only be an extremely effective model for lowering the barriers to accessing health care in developing countries but also as an incredible model in the United States. While the context might be very different, the principle is the same: train community members so that they can easily and effectively spread knowledge and connect others to valuable community resources. The movement is growing slowly but here are a few different organizations/groups/clinics working to integrate the CHW movement into our health system:

Health Leads USA

Washington Global Health Alliance - Global to Local 

100 People

Camden Coalition 

CHWs: THE global health intervention 

Whether at home or abroad, we believe that CHW programs are perhaps the most effective, wide-reaching global health intervention. While the evidence base in support of this cause continues to build, here are the five points we keep coming back to as an organization: 

  • They deliver services to places where the health infrastructure has not yet been able to reach

  • It is an incredibly cost effective solution for governments; they are the smartest way to make tight budgets go further  

  • It is a local solution, hiring local people to serve their own community — that means not only investing education and money into local communities, but also unprecedented access and trust

  • Many programs hire exclusively women. In doing so, they empower an often disenfranchised segment of the population and potentially open up room for women in leadership roles within the community

  • Supporting CHW programs hits more MGDs than any other one initiative — both in the fact that these programs target maternal health and chronic diseases and that they provide livelihoods to local people.

 

Other great CHW resources:

NPR piece on CHWs in China:


FHWC’s Day in the life of a CHW:


Skoll Foundation's video: Meet three Women Who Are Saving Lives in Rural Kenya: