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Three Challenges, One Solution: The Many Capes of Health Heroes

by Phil Carroll

Within a one-mile radius of the United Nations World Headquarters, there are three hospitals, five urgent care facilities, and over ten clinics. While motorcades rush by and new agreements are brokered during the UN General Assembly, ambulances will be in the next lane, nurses will deliver new life and families will seek critical medical care. Even while global politics are underway, we must not forget the champions who are tirelessly bringing the Global Goals for Sustainable Development to bear—those on the frontlines of care.

Good health can change everything. But what makes good health a reality? It’s actually not a what, but a who. Our nurses, our surgeons, our social workers—these health heroes who serve on the frontlines are delivering the Global Goals worldwide, every day.

Health heroes wear many capes, and create impact in their communities far beyond a single inoculation or prenatal visit. Earlier this year, my company, Johnson & Johnson, joined forces with the Frontline Health Workers Coalition and the United Nations Foundation to host the first-ever Health Heroes +SocialGood, a gathering of the foremost experts and advocates in the global health workforce community. At this Summit, three passionate women addressed challenges that distilled for me why health heroes are vital beyond health.

1. The Disease Detective

Right now, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, health workers are deploying the latest technology alongside walking door to door to halt the spread of Ebola. As our world gets metaphorically smaller, the spread of disease becomes more likely. Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director of the Center for Global Health at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shares why health workers are our best resource for containing the next global disease outbreak.

Dr. Rebecca Martin from One Production Place on Vimeo.

2. The Economic Engine

When it comes to investing in economic growth, the health sector is ripe with opportunity from the latest technology to create exponential job growth. The High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth Report found that for an additional 2% GDP investment into health services, overall employment rates could increase by between 2.4 and 6.1 percentage points. And what’s more, Dr. Alaa Murabat explains it is estimated that women will take between 59% and 70% of the jobs created by such investment, increasing the rate of women’s employment by 3.3% to 8.2%. Investing in the health workforce means advancing not only economic growth but gender equity as well.

Dr. Alaa Murabit from One Production Place on Vimeo.

3. The Inclusive Innovator

Over the past five years, the practice of human-centered design has emerged as a popular and impactful lens for designing programs in global development. But for health workers, this process is not so new. When a pregnant woman visits her midwife to describe a pain in her stomach, the midwife practices the fundamentals of human-centered design without a second thought. Inquiring about her patient’s eating habits, physical activity, and stress levels, the midwife gathers information beyond the immediate symptom to inform her diagnosis. Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, Executive Director of 3D Girls and Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation, explains why we must learn from the integrated approach health workers champion to break down silos in global health.

Geeta Rao Gupta from One Production Place on Vimeo.

This UN General Assembly Week, I invite you to join me in reimagining how health heroes are critical to your cause. Because, while it's obvious we need health heroes, they also need us! Now is the time to empower and invest in the people moving us closer to the safer, healthier, and prosperous world we seek to build together. Because we know, with an empowered health workforce, good health is possible—and that changes everything.