Thursday, December 6, 2012

Front Line Healthcare Workers are Heroes

A UNICEF staffer in Uganda assisting with a Family Health Care day

Through my advocacy work with RESULTS, I have become more and more aware of the importance of front line health care workers in remote areas where people live in extreme poverty. We can throw all the money we want at global health problems like AIDS or malaria, but without competent and dedicated staff in the field it would all be for nothing. Working on the ground to stop tuberculosis, for instance, inherently means risk of exposure to an airborne disease. Many times, lack of medical resources means lack of basic resources (like water!). These are the most challenging of conditions for any medical caregiver to work in.

I'll go ahead and admit that even though I'm an adult, sometimes a cartoon graphic can still help me understand more than a few paragraphs of text. So, when I came across this post on the website of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, I wanted to share it to others. It is unbelievable how brave the caregivers are who administer life-saving care out in the field. They are heroes.

Please read Sarah Dwyer's post below and if you want to help, make sure your U.S. representative is on House Resolution 734, which recognizes the importance of frontline health workers toward accelerating progress on global health. I lobbied my representative, Congresswoman Jan Schakowksy, to co-sign it. My colleagues and I even convinced Representative Bob Dold (who rarely took action on global health issues) to co-sign it and write an op-ed in our local media in praise of it!

Saving Lives Shouldn’t Mean You Risk Your Own

Posted on 
By Sarah Dwyer and Rachel Deussom, IntraHealth International
Health workers shouldn’t have to put themselves at risk in order to do their jobs. But in fact, many frontline health workers face a wide range of occupational safety and health hazards—biological, physical, chemical, and psychosocial, as well as gender-based violence and discrimination.
Let’s take a look at one health worker—the nurse below on the left.
She’s facing a heavy workload and has many patients seeking her attention. The nurse is aware that the facility needs to be cleaned regularly to reduce risk of infection, but the janitor is absent. The lack of running water makes it even more challenging.
Our health worker is a dedicated employee—rather than leave when her shift is over, she takes time after the clinic is closed to do the cleaning. But the absence of her colleagues means more work for her, and she may not be able to do it all while taking measures to protect herself. Some health facilities lack proper disposal equipment, which can be dangerous for both the health workers and their patients.
Now it’s very late, and our health worker has to get herself home after dark. The road may not be safe, especially for a woman traveling alone. And when she gets home, she’ll have to do a lot of housework, meal preparation, and child care.
Then tomorrow she’ll do it all over again.
How can we help this nurse and other health workers like her? A new CapacityPlus technical brief, Ensuring a Positive Practice Environment: Occupational Safety and Health for Health Worker Productivity, outlines ways to make health workers’ safety a higher-level policy issue and shows how to create working environments that prioritize occupational health.
Just a few of the many hazards include:
  • Lack of sterile equipment and proper waste management
  • Exposure to bacteria, parasites, and blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis as well as communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, avian flu, and swine flu
  • Physical strain and injury
  • Bleach, lead, flammables, solvents, noxious vapors, and radiation
  • Stress, fear caused by violence or verbal abuse, and depression
The good news is that improving safety in the workplace can help address other service delivery issues and result in additional gains, from increased motivation and productivity to a stronger-functioning team.
To learn more, read the technical brief, and please let us know what you think. What are the occupational safety and health hazards faced by you or health workers you know? What is being done to reduce these hazards?

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