Investing in frontline health workers is a “best buy” for global health, and helps advance U.S. and global interests.
Even in this time of significant economic challenges and need here at home, polls show that the majority of Americans continue to support U.S. investment in programs that save and improve the lives of impoverished children and their families in the developing world. In addition to the American generosity of spirit, there is strong evidence that frontline health workers are a “best buy” for global health, and taxpayer investment will reap big returns.
Frontline health workers are the backbone of effective health systems and are the only way to serve millions of families who live beyond the reach of hospitals and clinics.
Frontline health workers with proper support and linkages to the formal health system can offer “one stop shopping” – providing families with access to a range of proven, cost-effective, lifesaving care to help prevent and treat infections, increase coverage of vaccines, ensure healthy outcomes for mothers and newborns, prevent unintended pregnancies, and fight diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and HIV.
The low-cost services they deliver have been proven to save lives and help build more stable, prosperous communities.
Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Malawi and Nepal have all seen dramatic reductions in mortality as a result of their investments in frontline health workers. Many of the emerging markets today including Thailand, Sri Lanka and Brazil invested during the 1960s and 70s in basic health care via community-based health workers. These workers brought about the improvements in health and reductions in fertility that have allowed economies to grow and prosper.
Frontline health workers are a cost-effective solution to fill the gap in health workers.
It can cost as little as $300 to train a frontline health worker in critical lifesaving skills to address common threats to health. The overall cost to deploy them varies, but is estimated at $3,700 for one year. Midwives who are critical to reducing the deaths of mothers and newborns require longer training but still cost on average less than $5,000 to train. In some countries, policies and programs are expanding the tasks and support for existing health workers so that they can do more with only marginal additional costs.
Because frontline health workers are drawn from the communities they serve, they are less likely to migrate than higher-skilled categories of health workers.
Many low- and middle-income countries are experiencing a serious “brain drain” of medical personnel moving from villages to cities or to richer countries in search of better paying jobs and higher standards of living. This migration has led to major health workforce shortages in the developing world and left already struggling health care systems in an even more desperate state. Investments that target frontline health workers are a good way to help strengthen and rebuild health systems with a cadre of workers that is less likely to migrate and more culturally in sync with local needs and beliefs, thus ensuring care reaches those who need it most.
Investing in frontline health workers is not just a cost-effective way to save lives in the developing world – these investments are also a smart way to advance U.S. interests and build a favorable climate for American business.
Never has the U.S. economy depended so much on the success of low- middle-income countries, which now account for almost half the globe’s economic output and their economies are growing faster than the industrialized world. These growing markets benefit from a healthier workforce, better educated youth, and greater stability. With this growth comes the foundation for international business partnerships that benefit both donor and developing nations.