76th World Health Assembly: The Tipping Point for Community Health Workers

Jun 17, 2023

The 76th World Health Assembly (WHA) brought together global health leaders and stakeholders to discuss pressing public health issues. This year's assembly placed a spotlight on community health workers (CHWs), recognizing their invaluable contributions to healthcare. This blog post examines key themes that emerged during the event, including the growing momentum to recognize CHWs, the intersection of climate change and health, the active involvement of the Africa CDC, and the importance of promoting gender equality within the health and care workforce. Africa Frontline First is pleased to see how issues related to the health and care workforce, especially community health workers (CHWs) are courting the attention of global health leaders and players.

Growing Momentum to Recognize Community Healthcare Workers 

This year's WHA shed light on community health workforce-related issues. During a strategic roundtable organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), panelists agreed on the need to recognize, invest in, and protect healthcare workers. The discussion revolved around enhancing their training, support, and remuneration while creating conducive working environments. UNICEF's Executive Director, Catherine Russell, paid tribute to the heroic efforts of CHWs, emphasizing their role in reversing the decline in children's vaccine coverage and mitigating the impact of the pandemic.

Margaret Odera, a Kenyan CHW, captured the audience through her engagements at WHA. She made a case for CHWs in Africa to be integrated, paid, and recognized. Margaret was the only CHW at this year’s WHA advocating for millions of other CHWs across the globe.

The call for increased support and investment in CHWs aligns with the African Union's vision to deploy 2 million CHWs and the Africa CDC's New Public Health Order to strengthen the public health workforce.

Africa Frontline First, an initiative dedicated to professionalizing 200,000 CHWs across Africa by 2030, has already mobilized $100 million in collaboration with The Global Fund through the Africa Frontline First Catalytic Fund. This investment directly supports CHWs and helps shape community health programs at the national level, facilitating the realization of the vision of the African Union and Africa CDC.

Promoting Gender Equality among Community Health Workers

Gender inequities within the health and care workforce were brought to the forefront during the WHA. Although women constitute seventy per cent of CHWs globally, they often face gender-based discrimination, and pay disparities. Key speakers, including H.E. Ambassador Minata Samate Cessouma and Catherine Russell from the African Union and UNICEF, emphasized the need to address these inequalities. Discussions centered on empowering and investing in women in healthcare,  and overcoming systemic barriers. Advancing gender equality within the health and care workforce contributes to more inclusive and effective healthcare systems. The mission of Africa Frontline First to professionalize 200,000 CHWs in Africa by 2030 plays a pivotal role in addressing these inequities. This initiative ensures that women, who comprise the majority of CHWs, receive support, training, and fair compensation for their vital work, and be at par with their male counterparts.

Putting Community Health Workers at the Center of Climate-Proof Community Health Systems

The intersection of climate change and health received significant attention at the WHA, with discussions highlighting the urgent need for climate action and resilient healthcare systems. Climate change has far-reaching implications for public health, including the increased prevalence of infectious diseases and extreme weather events. WHO Chief, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, affirmed that the climate crisis is, in fact, a health crisis. The fingerprints of the climate crisis are becoming increasingly evident in Africa, from cholera outbreaks in Uganda to devastating cyclones in Malawi and Mozambique. Many experts predict that the next pandemic may be climate-induced. CHWs have historically played a crucial role in controlling pandemics such as COVID-19 and Ebola. Thus, it is imperative to reimagine their role in building climate-proof health systems. By equipping CHWs with proper training, salaries, and support, they can become climate-smart agents, promoting sustainable behaviours and providing essential health services during climate-induced disease outbreaks. CHWs are instrumental in detecting and responding to outbreaks within last-mile communities, ensuring the health and well-being of vulnerable populations.

Africa CDC's Commitment to Strengthening Community Health in Africa 

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) demonstrated its commitment to addressing major global public health challenges at the 76th World Health Assembly. Through active engagements and side events, including a high-level ministerial meeting on community health workforce, systems, and programs, the Africa CDC brought together ministers of health and government representatives across Africa, NGOs and multi-lateral organizations to discuss issues affecting CHWs and community health programming across Africa. This is part of efforts to expand and strengthen community health worker programs, build their capacities and capabilities, and foster coordination and institutionalization of community health programming across Africa. Africa Frontline First has entered into a partnership with the Africa CDC to support Africa CDC's efforts to enhance the coordination and institutionalization of community health programming across Africa.

The 76th World Health Assembly highlighted the significance of recognizing and supporting community health workers. It is now our collective responsibility to turn these discussions into action. We must advocate for increased investment in CHWs, and support initiatives like Africa Frontline First to drive transformative change in community health across Africa.