Community health workers are crucial to global health campaigns, including in the COVID-19 pandemic. Peter Sands, Executive Director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, highlighted the critical role of frontline community health workers in delivering vaccines to those who need it.
Former President of the Republic of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf drew from her country’s experience during the 2014 Ebola Virus outbreak. At that time, the health system was caught off guard but underwent a turning point when they shifted to a community-based approach. They were successful in ending the outbreak but also in addressing other diseases by engaging the community and empowering health workers. Communities with community engagement have had better results in COVID-19 containment, President Sirleaf continued, as well as improved vaccine delivery and uptake. Building resilient health systems, as in Liberia, can help mitigate an emergency before it starts. President Sirleaf reiterated that no single individual or institution can do this alone; uplifting a community healthcare workforce requires mutual creativity and decisiveness, and partnerships with private enterprise, governments, and nonprofits.
Raj Panjabi, U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, wants the world to better support community health workers because those closest to the community bring care to those who need it most. Community health workers, he continued, have detected more than 2 billion fevers worldwide—the largest fever surveillance program in the world. These same trusted neighbors are critical for communities and make the world safer.
Good ideas and intentions are not sufficient, President Sirleaf reminded the audience. There must be concrete actions to take up and support the challenge of building a healthy community. A healthier and safer world is possible through community healthcare investment.
Ideas and good intentions are not enough. Ideas must be met with political willingness and collaborative action.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
The harsh reality is that however much we have tried, we are not going to get back on track against HIV, TB, and malaria until we collectively have got on top of this new pandemic.
Alarms—those early warning signs of the next pandemic—don’t ring themselves. Health workers do.