Frontline Health Care on the Hill

By Jane Coaston | December 12, 2012

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) at the Frontline Health Workers briefing

Save the Children

One year ago, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton laid out a vision for an AIDS-free generation. Earlier this month, she released the new PEPFAR “Blueprint,” which details the U.S. government’s plan to eliminate HIV/AIDS worldwide. The plan calls for private and public organizations to work together to encourage testing and treatment and prevent mother-to-child transmission. Nurses, doctors, and health care practitioners are critical to providing these services in the field. This past week, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation joined with Save the Children and the Frontline Health Workers Coalition for “Creating an AIDS Free Generation through Frontline Health Workers, “a briefing to discuss how health workers on-the-ground can help fulfill the Blueprint’s agenda.

The event featured speakers from across the public health spectrum offering insights into how healthcare workers on the ground can help solve many of our greatest challenges. Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health at USAID, Dr. Stephen Lee, Senior Director, Country Management and Support for the Foundation, and Sharon D'Agostino, Vice President, Corporate Citizenship for Johnson & Johnson all shared their perspectives on the progress we’ve made in the battle against HIV/AIDS   and the role frontline healthcare workers will play in the “beginning of the end of AIDS.” The event also included a special appearance by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who has been a champion of global health efforts since she entered office in 1998. “Healthcare workers are our secret weapon,” she said.

“We are now seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez said about the fight against HIV/AIDS during his talk. “From where we were – what a difference.” Dr. Pablos-Mendez focused on how governments and private organizations need to think about how to spend intelligently, and how best to make improvements in health systems to ensure quality. He emphasized that health care workers not only combat HIV/AIDS, but also diseases that cause preventable child deaths, like malaria and other infectious illnesses.  The Foundation’s Dr. Stephen Lee said that for the Global Plan and PEPFAR Blueprint to be achieved, there needs to be an emphasis on prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), as well as making sure that women have access to antiretroviral medications (ARVs), care, and treatment. “There's no way that's going to happen without frontline health workers,” he added.

Overall, there are not enough workers, Dr. Lee noted, and the frontline health workers who are on the ground need the proper training to address the needs of people with HIV.  Additionally, there are concerns about the distribution of workers, with many workers stationed in urban areas while relatively few are placed in rural areas.  A lack of trained clinical providers and burnout are also major health workforce concerns.  Dr. Lee said that healthcare workers need more support and resources, including performance management tools to help them improve their skills. During her remarks, Sharon D'Agostino discussed Johnson & Johnson’s partnerships that are dedicated to improving the lives of women living with HIV around the world, and said that community health workers, no matter their training, were critical to ending HIV/AIDS.  “Anyone who can help people make choices that keep people alive and healthy are frontline health workers,” she said.

Health care workers in rural clinics, small hospitals, and villages around the world are key to the beginning of the end of AIDS, and this briefing offered much-needed perspective on how we can best support their efforts.

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.