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DFID confirms ongoing support for health workers

In parliament last week, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) highlighted the role of health workers for improving the health of women and children, and reaffirmed its commitment to help train and support health workers in 28 countries.

A commitment to saving lives

Baroness Northover, a government spokesperson for international development, agreed that “a strong health service needs skilled and motivated health workers in the right place at the right time”.

Referring to DFID’s commitment to save the lives of at least 50,000 women and 250,000 newborn babies by 2015, she acknowledged that these goals could not be met without skilled health workers.

The debate was organised by Lord Crisp as a follow-up to a report produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health. ‘All the Talents’ focused on the ways in which countries (including richer countries like the UK) can improve quality and access in health services by training health workers to take on tasks that are traditionally done by those with more training and qualifications.

Providing basic health services

In countries with a severe shortage of health workers, noted Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe, there is often no alternative but for health workers to carry out tasks which are not in their job description.

Baroness Northover responded by giving examples of how the UK is supporting community health workers in countries like Ethiopia, Pakistan and Zambia to provide a range of basic health services and therefore reach people who would otherwise have no access to healthcare.

She warned that “fragmented approaches, delivered separately from the wider health system or driven solely by efforts to cut costs, are not the way forward”. Any approaches should be informed by evidence and that is why DFID are funding research into the cost-effectiveness of using community health workers.

Baroness Warwick also made the important point that if changes to a health workforce are managed badly, they can lead to poor-quality and unsafe services. Greater burden should not be placed on poorly trained and poorly paid workers without proper support, ongoing supervision and training, and fair pay.

A global forum

In November, there will be a Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Brazil, convened by the Global Health Workforce Alliance and hosted by the Government of Brazil. Baroness Northover said that the UK would be playing a role in the run-up to the conference but didn’t go further to confirm what this role is and whether the UK government would be attending.

Save the Children is very involved in the planning for the Global Forum, which offers a major opportunity to remind the world of the critical role that health workers play in achieving universal health coverage.

Lord Crisp argued that DFID could do even more to “bring all the talents of all the health workforce together to have the biggest impact” on health.

We agree and will be looking to the UK and other governments to use the November forum to give even greater prominence to health workers in global health policies and take action to train and support more health workers.

Read the full debate here.

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