All people – regardless of gender, ethnicity, geographical location, or any other factor – have the right to good health and high-quality healthcare. If we embrace this viewpoint, we need to concern ourselves with the state of the health workforce – the backbone, or “hands and feet,” of healthcare.
There is a growing demand for high-quality healthcare. “Good health and well-being” is the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), encompassing wide-ranging targets such as achieving universal health coverage; ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; and ending preventable deaths among newborns and children under five years old by 2030.
However, the World Health Organization and World Bank project the need for an additional 18 million health workers to adequately meet health needs worldwide. Low- and middle-income countries experience this deficiency most acutely, with growing acknowledgement of the real danger of staff burnout, potentially resulting in further workforce losses or compromised provision of healthcare. Disease outbreaks and epidemics, as well as conflict and disaster situations, compound the pressure on the health workforce.
To discuss these issues, Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact, the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, and the United Nations Foundation partnered to host Health Heroes +SocialGood: Empowering Health Workers Worldwide on April 5, 2018. Held in Washington, D.C., but live streamed worldwide, the event brought together global health leaders from the World Bank, USAID, CDC, and UNICEF, as well as frontline health workers from around the world. These health workers shared their experiences, from providing mental health services in rural Liberia, to raising awareness of attacks on health workers in Syria, to addressing Ebola in Nigeria.
The summit’s format – a mix of brief speeches highlighting specific issues and four panel discussions – facilitated the presentation of a range of proposed solutions. These included:
· Gender: Addressing inequalities in compensation and career and leadership opportunities; protecting female health workers from violence and harassment; and promoting female health workers as change agents
· Global health security in outbreak situations: Developing sustainable infrastructure, including information systems; and respecting and building on grassroots knowledge, capacity, and structures
· Conflict and disaster settings: Providing adequate security for health workers; improving mental health services for those affected (including health workers themselves); and holding states accountable for atrocities
· Achieving the SDGs: Developing and applying innovation and technology; engaging youth; and seeking efficiencies by ensuring health workers have the training and tools they need, mobilizing domestic resources, and engaging the private sector
What can I do?
Protecting and promoting the health workforce is a complex issue, incorporating education, gender, security, and resources, said Vince Blaser, Director of Frontline Health Workers Coalition. He added, “we must take care that this complexity does not lead to inaction.”
Advocacy actions from the event include:
· Join the twitter Thunderclap to call for investment in health workers
· Demand action and accountability for health workers in every global health policy and initiative
· Follow the Frontline Health Workers Coalition
· Include, listen, and act on the feedback of frontline health workers
 World Health Organization. 2016. Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030.
 Read about recent findings from a study of health workers providing HIV services in Malawi.