The emergence of Ebola in West Africa has decimated the already fragile health care systems of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. An unprecedented number of health workers, who have been responding to contain the rapid spread of the virus, have died from the disease themselves. This consequence in affected countries impacts both the immediate fight against Ebola, as well as long-term public health.
In addition to disaster response and vaccine development, Johnson & Johnson is participating in ongoing efforts by public health authorities and partners to strengthen the capacity of global health workers. Global health workers are based in the community rather than in a health facility and tend to be hired from the community they serve, having the ability to reach Ebola patients in their communities in a timely manner. For example, when infection is suspected, global health workers can act swiftly to isolate and determine the next steps to treat the patient. In countries where the existing health infrastructure is stretched beyond capacity, training and equipping global health workers is critical to providing the level of responsiveness needed to battle and contain Ebola.
In Guinea, health workers responding to the Ebola epidemic face a major challenge with gaps in communication and coordination. Johnson & Johnson has partnered with IntraHealth International and UNICEF to adapt the mobile health system – mHero – to link available data on the health workforce in Guinea with mobile technologies that can support effective learning and mobilization needed in the Ebola response. This project hopes to replicate mHero’s success in Liberia, where the system is delivering accurate and effective messages via mobile phone to health workers who otherwise might be unreachable.
Although the Ebola crisis has dramatically brought to light the need for more effective health systems, global health workers have emerged as a critical human resource able to deliver health services directly to communities.
As communities become free of Ebola, integrating global health workers into functional health systems will be necessary to achieve long-term goals such as reducing maternal and infant mortality and to achieve universal health coverage.
The Frontline Health Workers Coalition (FHWC) worked with Johnson & Johnson to publish a research report which makes a data-driven case for increasing support to global health workers and their integration into national health systems, policy and strategy. Members of the Coalition are also taking the further step to support governments and stakeholders at the country level to implement those recommendations.