Hands up for health workers! GHWA joins campaign launch

With a shortage of four million doctors, nurses and midwives around the world, the 'Hands Up for Health Workers' campaign launched by British NGO Merlin on Thursday 20 November, calls for investment in health staff to become a global priority.

Highlighting 57 countries dealing with critical health worker shortages, of which 36 are African, the campaign calls for funding to train additional staff needed and refresher training for those already working. It also asks for a regular living wage for health workers and incentives for them to work in remote or hostile environments.

"In some areas, one health worker can shoulder the responsibility for up to 50,000 people. Those working in rural areas can suffer the most, struggling to get vital drugs and equipment and living miles away from their family and support network," said Carolyn Miller, Merlin’s Chief Executive, launching the campaign in London, England.

"Without skilled and motivated health workers, countries are unlikely to achieve economic progress and social development," she added.

The campaign kicks off with an exhibition of photographs taken in the Central African Republic (CAR) by Panos photographer Frédéric Courbet. The photographs document the reality of working in CAR where maternal mortality rates have doubled and 20 per cent of children die before their fifth birthday.

Olga Yetikoua, a Nurse Supervisor born in the Central African Republic, currently works for Merlin in the remote Nana Gribizi District. She said:"CAR has gone backwards. We don’t even have the minimum level of health care anymore. I’ve spent most of my professional life in Bangui, the capital, cushioned against reality. Coming here I realised just how neglected our health services, and health workers, are."

Dr Mubashar Sheikh,GHWA Executive Director
GHWA Executive Director, Dr Mubashar Sheikh, speaking at the campaign launch

The Global Health Workforce Alliance joined Merlin in the launch, providing the keynote launch speech, and underlining the Allaince's support for the initiative.

“This is an exciting and challenging time in the movement to address the global health worker shortage, marked by increased political and financial commitment and signs of progress on the ground. But the reality is still that in much of the world, an estimated one billion people have no access to basic health care and health workers. Increased and concerted action to overcome the health worker gap is needed today to meet the MDGs by 2015," said GHWA Executive Director Mubashar Sheikh.

"We are excited and encouraged by the ‘Hands Up for Health Workers’ campaign . The campaign embodies the kind of innovative, proactive commitment and leadership that is vital to the future progress of this response and we will strive to support and partner with Merlin for the its forward implementation and success," he added.

Merlin has created a dedicated microsite - www.handsupforhealthworkers.org - to support the campaign featuring articles, videos and photographs from the Central African Republic. Through a special interactive feature, the site encourages readers to 'put your hands up for health workers' with the aim of getting thousands of people to sign up and become active in the response to the health workforce crisis.