COVID-19 awareness raising training in refugee camp in Sudan. Photo credit: Plan International
“It has been a rollercoaster since the first case was confirmed in March,” reflected Mr. Samson Udho, Midwife and Lecturer of Midwifery & Health at Lira University in Uganda, at a virtual side event presented by Takeda, Devex, and Global CSR Program partners Seed Global Health, JOICFP, Plan International, and World Vision at the virtual 75th United Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 23.
Seed Global Health Physician Educator Dr. Hadelman (center) discusses COVID protocols with WHO representatives in Lusaka, Zambia. Photo credit: Seed Global Health
Building on discussions hosted by Takeda, Devex, and Seed Global Health at the 2019 UN General Assembly, the 2020 event highlighted COVID-19 response stories of frontline health workers in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, and India, as well as lessons learned in maintaining essential health services and the comprehensive steps needed to strengthen the health workforce in order to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
“COVID-19 has shown us that we are all united in risk, while also illustrating how some are far more frequently and profoundly impacted than others,” said Dr. Vanessa Kerry, CEO of Seed Global Health.
“COVID-19 has caused a slowdown of essential services in our area,” reported Ms. Alice Atai, Nursing Officer in Uganda. “Children have been pulled from feeding programs. Teenage girls pulled from school. Many are getting pregnant. How can we help them have a safe delivery? We are also seeing a major drop in immunization. There is fear, but we don’t want people to lose hope.”
Community health volunteer taking temperatures at health facility in Nairobi. Photo credit: JOICFP
She also shared a story of hope and optimism: when JOICFP supported community health workers in Kenya for disseminating messages to pregnant women about the importance of delivering in hospitals even during the pandemic, women began returning to facilities.
Community health workers serve as liaisons between the community and the health system. On the front lines, they provide advocacy, education, and support to individuals and families – often in remote areas where access to care and trust in facilities and systems can be challenging – to support preventive care, improve quality of life, and connect them with appropriate health options.
Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, Vice-President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, lamented the tragic consequences of diverting resources from essential services. He also shared lessons of urgency learned from the Ebola crisis, which took the lives of nearly 9% of his country’s health workforce. Sierra Leone’s priority today: “to shift from response to resilience.”
Dr. Jalloh called on leaders from developing countries specifically to define and set a new agenda for health for all. “We need dialogue with development partners on the nature of their support to building resilient health systems. We need a flexible, dynamic approach that makes room for investment in COVID-19 response in a way that also helps build robust, well-staffed health systems strong enough to respond to the pandemic and the day to day needs of our people.”
Building on this call to action, Ms. Mattakwa asked leaders to maintain momentum: “Let us continue investing in our health workers so as to promote quality services, both at the facility and community levels. Not doing this puts our ability to achieve UHC at risk because without motivated, trained, protected health workers, then the quality of services in our facilities will be compromised.”
“When systems are fragile and underfunded, we can't win trust from the community,” Mr. Luis Gadama, OB/GYN Department Chief at the Malawi College of Medicine, said.
“Ebola and Zika exposed the fragility of our systems and inequities in access. In Malawi, the government has acknowledged the importance of the health workforce in addition to the need for better overall infrastructure and political commitment.”
Takako Ohyabu, Chief Global Corporate Affairs Officer at Takeda, concluded the event with a call to global leaders to support health systems by strengthening and empowering the health workforce with long-term investments and partnership.
“While training health workers, strengthening health systems, and improving access to care do not always deliver the fanfare of immediate headlines,” she said, “we know they are transforming communities and saving lives. And that’s what matters.”
In May 2020, Takeda announced a major donation across three UN-led organizations to support essential efforts at the front lines of the coronavirus and the work that prepares health systems to respond effectively to this pandemic now and other emergencies in the future. The announcement builds on the Takeda’s ongoing long-term commitments to empowering health workers through its Global CSR Program and Partnerships.