It is often said that ‘In the heart of every community, there is work that is noble, valuable, and essential’. At the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78), community health workers proved this adage right. Their presence was not just acknowledged; it was celebrated.
As the world grapples with the complexities of public health and equitable access to healthcare, community health workers remain the unsung heroes, consistently providing care and support to the most vulnerable. This blog offers our reflections from UNGA 78, where an unprecedented focus on global public health provided an opportunity to take a step forward in the journey towards health for all.
Elevating the Voices, Unveiling Realities
The stories told in New York by community health workers themselves took center stage. Multiple events featured their voices and experiences providing care in the world’s most remote places. ‘The time to invest in community health workers is not tomorrow, it’s not soon, it’s now!’, said Bupe Sinkala, a CHW from Zambia, at a side event organized by the Community Health Impact Coalition. Despite their representation at UNGA, most continue to face barriers to attend.
Growing Momentum for Increased Investments
The Political Declaration on universal health coverage recognized the instrumental role community health plays to ensure health for all. A call to invest in the training, development, recruitment, payment, and retention of the health workforce was emphasized. Member States are determined to take actions to accelerate the financing for their national health programs. Partners – from the private sector, philanthropy, nonprofits and others – can and must follow them to make professional community health workers the norm. Examples like the push for “one plan, one budget, one report” or the multisectoral Africa Frontline First Catalytic Fund have proven to be effective in achieving impact.
“The Africa Frontline First Catalytic Fund is among the largest efforts involving multiple private sector philanthropy… The fund aims to transform the work of 220,000 community health workers in eight African countries.” – @GlobalFund Board Chair Lady Roslyn Morauta at #CGI2023 pic.twitter.com/HDScwo9S9A
— The Global Fund (@GlobalFund) September 18, 2023
On the Frontlines of Pandemic Preparedness and Climate Change:
Recognition for community health workers extended beyond routine healthcare. The Political Declaration on pandemic preparedness and response featured the significant dual role of community health workers in preventing and responding to pandemics and building climate-resilient nations. However, one in three workers face essential medicine stock-outs and lack of integration of disease surveillance activities at the community level continue to affect their performance. A strong, accessible, reliable everyday health system rooted at the community level offers the best strategy to address the devastating effects of pandemics and climate change.
National community health programs and workforce are imperative to the health of society. As we move from UNGA 78, we must follow commitments with actions. Only through collaboration across sectors will we achieve the good health and wellbeing of everyone. Africa Frontline First remains committed to work with governments and partners to transform Africa’s community health landscape. It is the task of all of us to ensure the crucial work of community health workers is not just recognized but resourced for sustained impact.