It is no surprise that the world needs more health workers. In fact, even though there are currently 22 million nurses and 2 million midwives globally there is an urgent need for 18 million more health workers in order to reach universal health care coverage by 2030 according to the World Health Organization.
There is a particular need for 9 million nurses and midwives as they are critical components to a robust health system and are often on the front lines of general and critical care including:
Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases
Prevention, diagnosis and treatment of noncommunicable diseases
Sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, and maternal and newborn health care, including immunization and breastfeeding support.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) continues to take a tremendous toll on human health, with 37 million people infected and 1.2 million deaths worldwide in 2014. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV epidemic has been most devastating, more than 25 million people are HIV-infected, about 70 percent of the global total.
But as of 2014, only about 11 million people infected with the virus in Africa were receiving treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications, which can stop the progression of disease and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
That leaves 14 million people with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa untreated. This is partly because, until recently, most countries have provided ART only for patients who reached a specific threshold in HIV disease progression. And starting ART can be a lengthy and complicated process, leading many patients to drop out of care before they even begin treatment.
In January I wrote that I would be looking closely at the effect of Ebola on maternal health and mortality in the Ebola-affected countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Today unfortunate news was released by the World Bank and The Lancet.
According to the new report, Health-care worker mortality and the legacy of the Ebola epidemic and New Wave of Deaths From Ebola?: The Impact of Health Care Worker Mortality (PDF), it is estimated that 4,022 more women will die during childbirth in these countries on top of their already high maternal mortality rate due to the deaths of 240 health workers (doctors, nurses, and midwives) collectively across all three countries. Liberia lost the most health workers at 83. Guinea lost 78 and Sierra Leone lost 79 health workers. That translates to an increase of maternal deaths by 38% in Guinea, 74% in Sierra Leone, and 111% in Liberia. Due to the nature of health work a disproportionate rate of health workers died during the Ebola epidemic as opposed to the general population. Those health workers, of course, were critical to the health systems in all three countries whose systems were already on troubled ground before Ebola ravaged west Africa.
To kick off World Health Worker Week (April 5 – 11) we are sharing photos and stories of some of the health workers we’ve met around the world over the years who work tirelessly to keep women, children, and families healthy and most importantly alive.
In the sub-Saharan and Asian countries where we have met these health workers, many of the ailments they treat every day can cause severe illness in their patients and even death. That is why it is important to not only provide the much-needed resources and support health workers need to do their jobs effectively and train many more health workers, it’s also important to thank them for the work they do. That is why World Health Worker Week was started — to celebrate health workers, but also to acknowledge the challenges they face every day and help rally the world’s global health community, civil society, and governments to fix those health worker challenges.