James Militzer

Game Changer?: The campaign to train one million African health workers – Part 1

The UN’s Millenium Development Goals set ambitious targets for improving health at the BoP. But with uneven progress and the 2015 deadline approaching, some have already written off those goals as unreachable. Now a bold new initiative is making a final push to actually achieve them in one of the world’s most impoverished regions.

The One Million Community Health Workers campaign aims to train, equip and deploy one million health care workers in sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2015, reaching millions of underserved people. Overseen by a steering committee at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and run through the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the campaign brings together NGOs, aid organizations, other UN agencies, corporate partners and African governments.

They’ve got a tough challenge ahead: in sub-Saharan Africa, around 10 percent of children die before reaching the age of five. Maternal death rates are high. Many people suffer from preventable and treatable diseases, and lack access to fundamental medical care – particularly in rural areas.

The campaign aims to address these issues by dramatically scaling up existing public and non-governmental community health worker programs. It will work with governments and aid agencies to finance and train new health workers, each of whom would serve an average of 650 rural inhabitants. In addition to providing basic treatment and preventive care, these workers will keep track of disease outbreaks and overall public health, and link patients to the broader health care system of doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinics.

I spoke with Dr. Prabhjot Singh, Co-Chair of the One Million Community Health Workers Campaign, about the considerable potential (and risks) of an intitiative of this magnitude. You can view some highlights of the first part of our discussion below, or check out the full interview here.

Question 1: “Why did you decide to focus on training community health workers, rather than on other BoP health care needs?”

Question 2: “Is it risky to focus on human capital, since you’ll lose the investment if the workers can’t find work in health care – or decide to seek other jobs?”

Question 3: “Describe the training that the health workers will receive, and how they’ll be supervised.”

Question 4: “What countries will you work with, and how will you interface with their existing health care systems?”

Question 5: “How will the health workers utilize mobile technology?”

Health Care, Technology
public health