Health in emergencies - health workers on the frontline

A statement from the Global Health Workforce Alliance on the occasion of World Health Day 2009

World Health Day is celebrated every year on 7 April to mark the founding of WHO. The theme for 2009, is "Save lives. Make hospitals safe in emergencies".

On the occasion of World Health Day 2009, the Global Health Workforce Alliance underlines the important and critical role played by health workers at times of disaster and emergency.

At the heart of making hospitals safer are the people responsible for saving lives - the health workers. And when an emergency strikes - health workers are on the frontline.

Often 'first on scene', health workers are tragically also often the first casualties themselves - there are many examples around the work where health workers have been killed in large numbers in the early instances of disaster. Added to this, health workers - like all members of populations in crisis zones - lose family members, friends, colleagues and others close to them. In these instances, health workers are faced with the harrowing task of undertaking their professional and moral responsibility to be at the forefront to help others while at the same time having to overcome grief and other physiological and psychological challenges brought on through emergency situations.

Emergencies have devastating impact on the health workforce. This is even more catastrophic when we consider that many countries in the world are already facing critical shortages of health workers -- and it is an unfortunate irony that most disasters (natural and man-made) occur in these very same countries.

The world currently has a shortage of over 4 million health workers. Without health workers, more mothers and babies die in pregnancy and childbirth. Without health workers, life-saving immunizations cannot be administered. Without health workers, access to services for AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases cannot be assured. And without health workers, health safety and security of populations at times of emergency are seriously compromised.

As we mark World Health Day , the Global Health Workforce Alliance pledges its support to health personnel across the world and calls upon governments and partners to remember the pivotal role played by health workers in the delivery of health care in general and during emergencies and catastrophes in particular.

The Alliance urges increased investment in training, recruitment, retention and support of health workers, at all levels, ensuring a committed and motivated health workforce to better serve our communities. The Alliance also urges that health workers are protected, respected and supported before, during and after emergencies, so that the impact of disasters, natural or otherwise are minimal.

This way, more lives will be saved - making not only hospitals, but entire health systems and societies 'safer'.