News & Insights

A few years ago, I met Wang Linyun, a nurse/midwife from Taiyuan Maternity Hospital in Shanxi, China. The photo below is a screenshot from an interview—she is expressing the utter desperation and helplessness she felt when she did not know how to help a baby experiencing childbirth complications. If a baby died or suffered a long-term disability, she blamed herself!But one may ask, how could a nurse/midwife in a maternity ward not know what to do? To answer that, let’s look at Wang Linyun’s pathway to becoming a midwife. Like many nurses/midwives in China and elsewhere, Wang completed her 3-year general nursing education, which included few midwifery specific courses. After attending 20 supervised births at a local hospital where she was expected to “learn on the job,” she was licensed to work as an obstetric nurse (Chinese title for midwife). In short, Wang became a midwife with little midwifery education or training.
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Frontline health workers, including nurses, midwives and community health workers (CHWs), are vital for effective, strong primary healthcare systems that deliver for everyone, everywhere. These cadres of health workers are the first, and in some cases often the only, point of contact with the health system for millions of people. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, nurses stepped up to lead not only at testing sites but in critical care of very ill patients, and community health workers played key roles in contact tracing and testing in many countries around the world.
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Health workers take on so much – they are tireless caregivers; advocates; and confidants, often undertaking a considerable amount of emotional pressure in their jobs. This couldn’t be truer during the pandemic, and health workers around the world are feeling the strain. A recent study shows that more than 33% of nurses stated their mental health as bad or very bad, underscoring the concern that the current pandemic will lead to an increase of stress and job burnout among health care workers.
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In over half the countries in the world including Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, there is only one psychiatrist per 100,000 people. In Asia Pacific, mental illness is the second largest contributor to years lost due to disability. Additionally, less than half of those affected receive any medical treatment, and in China and India, it is less than a tenth. Even when treatment is accessible, it is often insufficient.
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Frontline health workers usually have higher than normal levels of stress while providing healthcare in communities. They are facing tremendous stress now in providing care and services, sometimes managing acute cases, through the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF has committed to addressing the mental health and psychosocial needs of frontline health workers across all of their work.
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At the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, we believe that sustainable improvements in the delivery of and access to quality primary care require a long-term commitment to enabling and supporting the well-being of the deliverer of care—the frontline health worker.
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During last year’s United Nations General Assembly, we introduced the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation to our partners and global health peers, who share our commitment of resources and resolve to support the health workforce. In light of the 18 million health worker shortage projected for 2030, our discussion touched on setting targets; meeting the needs of health workers today, not just tomorrow; the importance of leadership opportunities; and achieving greater recognition for all health worker cadres. The room felt united in appreciation that the hope of universal health coverage – which starts with strong community-based primary health care – is not possible without an equipped and empowered health workforce.
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The current stresses on the global healthcare system must serve as a wake-up call to spur longer-term action. Now more than ever, it is critical we advance global policies and programs to ensure the global health workforce is adequately supported and resourced to care for future generations. That’s why we’re committed to policy actions to champion the needs of these heroes. When health workers feel capable, confident, resilient, connected and recognized as leaders and innovators, health systems across the world are better equipped to meet patient needs.
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To say that 2020 has been a challenging year would be the understatement of the century. So much has changed for the world community since COVID-19, and countless governments, non-governmental organizations and companies are bringing their unique capabilities and resources to bear in profound ways.
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