30 September 2014

Nations need improved data collection for health workers

The US-based Frontline Health Workers Coalition urges nations to adopt improved, systematic data collection efforts for community health workers to more effectively assess the current state of the entire health workforce.


A new report finds that developing nations' ability to deal with pressing health challenges like HIV/Aids and ensuring maternal and newborn survival will be strengthened by creating a common definition for community health workers, as well as a core set of skills and competencies that would help ensure they are optimally trained, supported and deployed to provide care and treatment when and where it is needed most.

Improved data-collection efforts

The report by the U.S.-based Frontline Health Workers Coalition urges nations to adopt improved, systematic data collection efforts for community health workers to more effectively assess the current state of the entire health workforce, enhancing nations' ability to rationally integrate CHWs into their health system to better extend services into communities and deal with pressing health challenges.

Read: HIV: nurses as good as doctors

According to the World Health Organisation, at least 7.2 million additional doctors, nurses and midwives are currently needed to deliver essential services. However, without knowing the number of community health workers deployed, or their geographic location, global leaders are unable to determine on a global scale how they are helping to fill this shortage.

Without a common definition and understanding of expected tasks, countries cannot determine the right mix of skills for their health workforce and how best to integrate CHWs into the health system. With this information, CHWs can be rationally integrated into the formal health system, properly supported, and extend the health system to rural and other hard-to-reach populations.

Evidence suggests that in places where community health workers have been effectively and systematically integrated into national health systems, it has resulted in significant gains toward the health-related U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including improvements in maternal health, reductions in newborn mortality and efforts to roll-back diseases such as HIV/Aids, TB and malaria.

Global consensus

The report recommends health workforce stakeholders look to the International Labour Organization "community health worker" definition and the ILO recommended set of core tasks in order to establish global consensus on a common definition, set of core tasks and competencies.

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"We know how to prevent mothers and children from dying and how to drive down infectious disease pandemics like HIV/Aids and malaria. But we cannot do any of these things without a well-trained, supported and effectively deployed health workforce," said Julia Bluestone of Jhpiego, Chair of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition.

"Good data and rational integration of community health workers is key to unlocking this potential. Better data and integration of these workers will allow countries to more effectively deploy their entire health workforce for maximum impact on saving lives."

"We can create better managed health facilities and systems with well-trained and supported health workers," said Michael Bzdak, Coalition member and Executive Director of Corporate Contributions at Johnson & Johnson.

The power of data

"Responsible use of data and technology will help the Coalition achieve this by accelerating the adoption of proven practices. As we approach the establishment of goals in the post 2015-era, let's take stock of the data we have and how we are using it to make decisions. We have a great opportunity to harness the power of data to support the global health workforce."

Other key report recommendations include:

  • Implementation of the 2013 Harmonisation Framework, which calls for collaboration among various stakeholders to advance effective and rational integration of CHWs into national health systems and to optimise the role that CHWs play in achieving national health goals.
  • Creation of guidelines for a minimum data set of information on CHWs and the creation of national registries integrated into national human resources information systems to house this minimum data set.

The Frontline Health Workers Coalition is an alliance of 38 United States-based organisations working together to urge greater and more strategic U.S. investment in frontline health workers in developing countries as a cost-effective way to save lives and foster a healthier, safer and more prosperous world.

About the report

The report, titled A Commitment for Community Health Workers: Improving Data for Decision Making, is supported by Johnson & Johnson and endorsed by 17 FHWC members and partners. Contributing members to the report include IntraHealth International, Jhpiego, Johnson & Johnson, and the One Million Community Health Workers Campaign.

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Image: Nurse from Shutterstock

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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