Frontline Health Workers Coalition

 {Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH}Almaz Haile, Yeshi Derebew, Jember Alemayehu, and Teberih Tsegay receive 2014 REAL AWARDS.Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH

Four Ethiopian HIV-positive mothers received 2014 REAL Awards for their outstanding contributions to the fight against HIV, particularly prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), at a ceremony in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on April 10, 2014. Created by Save the Children and the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, the REAL Awards are designed to develop greater respect and appreciation for health workers and the lifesaving care they provide globally, as well as in the United States. 

Meet Tsegay, Haile, Alemayehu, and Derebrew

After breaking their silence and confronting the stigma faced by people living with HIV in Ethiopia, and envisioning that no child be born with HIV from their town, the four mothers—Teberih Tsegay, Almaz Haile, Jember Alemayehu, and Yeshi Derebew—received training on PMTCT and began working in late 2010 as mother mentors at Korem Town’s health center of Tigray Region.

 {Photo credit: Brigid Boettler/MSH}A participant asks a question during the congressional briefing on saving women's & children's lives in fragile countries.Photo credit: Brigid Boettler/MSH

It can be easy to take healthcare workers for granted. For the majority of us living in the United States, you know that a trained doctor and nurse will see you when you need assistance; a lab technician will do your blood work; and a certified pharmacist will dispense your prescriptions. But imagine going into labor and not knowing if a midwife or doctor will be present? Or, if you need a medication and there is no pharmacy to provide it?

These are the challenges facing millions of people in low- and middle-income countries—and the problems are made worse for those living in rural areas and/or fragile states.

Training health workers

To address this ongoing challenge, MSH, with International Medical Corps and the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, organized a Congressional briefing with the Congressional Women’s Caucus on March 26: “Saving Women’s and Children’s Lives: Strengthening the Health Workforce in Fragile Countries.”

At the heart of the discussion was the acknowledgement that to save lives you must have a strong health system and a strong health workforce.

 {Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH.}Teberih Tsegay, Almaz Haile, Jember Alemayehu, and Yeshi Derebew, of Korem Town, Ethiopia.Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH.

Knowledge is power, so the saying goes.

No one understands that more than Teberih Tsegay, Almaz Haile, Jember Alemayehu, and Yeshi Derebew, of Korem Town, Ethiopia, who have used their knowledge to save the lives of babies in their community. "Some years back there was no one to teach us, so we gave birth to HIV-positive children. But now we can teach others so no child will be born with the virus," said Jember.

Seeing the toll HIV had taken on their communities—but empowered with knowledge and skills to stop its further spread—the four women began working with the Korem Health Center as Mother Mentors in 2010. They teach HIV-positive pregnant women and their husbands about the steps necessary to keep their babies safe from the virus.

Remarkably, since they began their work three years ago, only one child has been born HIV-positive in Korem Town.

 {Photo credit: Todd Shapera}Emanuel Bizimungu, a community health worker in eastern Rwanda, examines a girl.Photo credit: Todd Shapera

As the United Nations General Assembly kicks off general debate on the post-2015 development agenda this week, advocates of a universal health coverage (UHC) target are rallying other organizations to build and showcase support around UHC. These efforts include high-profile events on Monday and Tuesday, both hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation with partner support. On Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson hosted an event on the key role of frontline health workers to efforts like these. This post, which originally appeared on The Lancet Global Health Blog, is part of a "Rallying for UHC" series: MSH bloggers expanding on the themes raised by these events and considering the road ahead for UHC in post-2015 discussions. Readers can participate by adding comments on the blog posts, or joining the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag.  

A community-based distribution agent discusses family planning options with a family in the DRC health zone of Ndekesha. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Cross-posted from Frontline Health Workers Coalition.

Evidence of the need to scale up the number of frontline health workers in developing countries abounds throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as described in a recent post on the Frontline Health Workers Coalition blog by Avril Ogrodnick of Abt Associates. Yet training new health workers is not sufficient, in itself, to sustainably address the crisis: governments must also invest in providing management support to harvest the full value of these trainings.

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