What Frontline Health Workers Resolution Means for Health Care Access for the World's Poor


August 21, 2012
Rachel Stelmach, RESULTS Global Legislative Intern

When I was little, I never worried about getting sick. Why would I? Most of the adults in my family are in medicine. To this day, flu shots (administered in the dining room by my father and my uncle) are a Stelmach Thanksgiving tradition: no flu shot, no dessert for you.

As I grew older, I realized that my childhood access to health services was rather unique. At college, no matter how miserably sick I felt, I had to wait in line to see a nurse; while I knew that was normal, it was odd not to be examined and diagnosed in my family kitchen.

Still, I am lucky to have access to a nurse or doctor just a few blocks from my dorm. For a staggering number of people, however, such quick access to health services would be an unimaginable blessing. Fully one billion people—that’s one out of every seven people in the world—have no access to trained health workers. A majority of these people live in developing countries in remote or rural areas. They have no one to teach them disease control and prevention, no one to administer treatment when they fall ill, and no one to recognize signs of serious illnesses. Due to this shortage, many global health initiatives never even have a chance of reaching the poorest of the poor.

Despite the severity and importance of the global health worker shortage, however, it has not garnered enough attention in international aid efforts. Fortunately, a coalition is working to increase awareness of the problem: the Frontline Health Workers Coalition. A frontline health worker is any trained health worker that serves as a first point of contact with a medical system.

As a global legislative intern at RESULTS, which is a member of the coalition, I have been fortunate enough to participate in several meetings as the RESULTS representative. A key action of the coalition has been to collaborate with the office of Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) to introduce a health care workers’ resolution (H.Res.734) “recognizing the importance of frontline health workers toward accelerating progress on global health and saving the lives of women and children.” The resolution calls for the government (including USAID, the CDC, and the State Department) to craft a strategy to increase support and training for frontline health workers.

During my Hill visits during the International Conference, H.Res.734 was “the ask” on which I lobbied the most. It was exciting and gratifying to see the response from offices across the political spectrum. Increasing access to and support for health workers is not a partisan issue: it increases the efficacy of aid dollars already being spent, which allows our health efforts to reach more people for the same cost. H.Res.734 is a great first step, but it’s on us, the advocates, to continue to push for more official training and support for frontline health workers. If we’re serious about wanting to improve health in the poorest regions of the world, we cannot afford to remain silent on their importance to our efforts.

 

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