Home NewsInternational Women health workers deliver care to 5 billion people globally – Pathfinder

Women health workers deliver care to 5 billion people globally – Pathfinder

by Haruna Gimba
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By Muhammad Amaan

The Pathfinder International said women health workers deliver care to approximately five billion people, mostly as nurses, midwives, and community health workers, contributing $3 trillion to globally health annually.

Dr Tabinda Sarosh, President, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Pathfinder and Dr Amina Dorayi, Country Director, Nigeria, Pathfinder, made the assertion in an Op Ed in commemoration of World Health Worker Week 2024.

They said that in spite constituting 70 percent of the global health workforce, they often serve in low-status jobs, with little or no pay.

The Pathfinder said each woman in the health workforce is powerful and capable of transforming individual lives, communities, and nations when supported in her role.

The World Health Worker Week, from April 1 to April 7, raises awareness about the importance of health workers and to engage even more people in advocacy.

It brings together advocates, health workers, practitioners, leaders, and communities around the world to call for greater funding and faster implementation of commitments to protect and support health workers.

The theme for 2024 is: “Safe and Supported: Invest in Health Workers.”

The Pathfinder representatives, also ahead of the Africa Health Workforce Investment Forum in May, called on governments and the global health sector to recognise the transformative contributions of women in the health workforce.

This would be by developing and implementing policies to ensure their protection, pay, and promotions.

They also said that men hold 75 per cent of health leadership roles and, on average, earn 28 per cent more than women.

“Investing in these women is a smart move, offering an estimated 9:1 return on investment and contributing to women’s economic empowerment.”

On the immense potential of women in health, they said that women health workers played a dual role, improving health outcomes while advancing gender equality by serving as role models in societies where women’s participation is limited.

According to them, studies indicate that promoting gender equality within communities not only fosters economic growth but also enhances access to contraception and reduces child mortality

“Moreover, these workers significantly contribute to economic prosperity by serving as frontline caregivers in rural areas with inadequate health infrastructure, promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, and investing in the health and education of their families.”

According to them, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that by 2050, the climate crisis will result in 14.5 million more deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses, with an additional $1.1 trillion in costs to health systems.

“Women and children will bear the biggest burden. This highlights the urgent need for women health workers to play a crucial part as part of a broader multidisciplinary effort in educating communities, supporting the delivery of healthcare in challenging conditions.

“And advocating for policies that mitigate the health impacts of climate change.

“As most of the health workforce, they can respond to climate-induced health emergencies like the rise in infectious diseases, the effects of extreme heat on pregnant women, and the rise in waterborne disease.”

To save lives in Pakistan and Nigeria, Sarosh and Dorayi asserted that women health workers can help achieve universal health coverage, and foster stable, prosperous societies through global health security.

“This potential holds true everywhere. For example, Pakistan and Nigeria despite their unique cultures, politics, and economies, face similar challenges such as rapid urbanization, weak rural health care, high maternal and child mortality, extreme vulnerability to climate change, and gender inequalities.

Ensuring we protect, support, and invest in women health workers is a high-impact solution.

“Lady Health Workers and community midwives in Pakistan, through initiatives like this Pathfinder Programme, provided critical support during the 2022 floods when a third of the country was under water.

“Lady Health Workers canvassed districts in Sindh Province, reaching communities with 20,000 dignity kits for safe pregnancies, and information on nutrition, hygiene, and health, easing the floods’ toll.

“Midwives delivered babies at birthing stations that replaced flooded health clinics.

“Lady Health Workers also played a crucial role during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing vital information on infection prevention and supporting isolated women at risk with information on gender-based violence services.

“Since 1994, when the Lady Health Worker program began, Lady Health Workers have contributed to the number of fully vaccinated children nearly doubling.

“They have helped to cut maternal and new-born deaths and increase family planning access.”

According to them, similarly, Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWs), nurses, and midwives in Nigeria—mostly women—have saved numerous lives, through programmes like Saving Mothers Giving Life.

“In Cross River state, CHEWs provided emergency obstetric and new-born care services in rural communities and referred complicated cases to higher-level health facilities.

“This led to a 66 percent decrease in maternal mortality in supported health facilities over three years.

“In Akwa Ibom state, CHEWs learned how to offer clinical contraceptive methods—injectables and implants—at local health facilities.

“And within two years of the training, uptake of modern contraceptives doubled while the number of women with contraceptive implants tripled.”

They said that to maximize this investment, there was need to protect, pay, and promote women, formalising their roles within health system strategies, plans and budgets, and providing adequate training and mentorship from higher level providers.

“We must elevate women into leadership positions, ensuring they are involved in budget planning and on emergency response committees.

“We must support them with woman-friendly policies like maternity leave, childcare support, and protection against workplace harassment and discrimination.

“We must ensure they receive a fair wage. Without these investments, the power of women in the health workforce will be a missed opportunity.”

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