Health Workers Are Critical to Achieving an AIDS-Free Generation

Kate Tulenko, Intrahealth; Kelly Curran, Jhpiego; Dr. Address Malata, Kamuzu College of Nursing; Lisa Carty UNAIDS, Ambassador Deborah Birx PEPFAR; Vince Blaser Frontline Health Workers Coalition.

EGPAF

As the world makes strides towards an AIDS-free generation, those who are working on the frontlines, doctors, nurses, community health workers and other professionals play a central role. These individuals often working under tough conditions ensure patients access life-saving prevention, treatment and care services.

Policy makers, recognizing the important role of health workers, set an ambitious goal in the 2008 legislation reauthorizing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)—that the program should train 140,000 new health workers to fight HIV/AIDS in the countries where it works.

This past Monday, at a briefing on Capitol Hill, Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx announced that the program met that target—and how their new human resources for health (HRH) strategy is going to help focus resources for HRH at the highest impact areas to have the greatest impact against the epidemic. Ambassador Birx noted that often times people think about programs as money—but programs are really people, and only as good as the people on the frontlines.

The briefing was co-hosted by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, Jhpiego, and IntraHealth international.

Also addressing the crowd that included Congressional staff and partners in the global health community was Dr. Address Malata – principal of a Nursing Education Partnership Initiative (NEPI) nursing school in Malawi. Dr. Malata highlighted the successes in Malawi in not only training new health workers, particularly nurses, but to retain them in country. She noted that a big issue was that trained health workers were leaving for more developed countries where working conditions and support is better. Malawi improved training, working conditions and benefits to ensure that the country can grow the health workforce it needs.

Lastly, Lisa Carty the Director of the U.S. Liaison Office for UNAIDS discussed how health workforce is critical in reaching their “90-90-90” goals of having 90 percent of HIV positive people tested, 90 percent of them on treatment, and 90 percent of them virally suppressed. She noted that advocacy around workforce is critical as health systems are only as strong as the people that implement them.

Unfortunately even with all of the success of PEPFAR programs and partners, critical workforce shortages exist around the world, particularly in Africa where it is estimated that a million additional health workers are needed to meet the continent’s needs.

That is why the Foundation continues to advocate for continued investment in HRH and health systems both through PEPFAR and other avenues to ensure that an AIDS-free generation is not just a dream but a reality.