Every year, World Health Worker Week is an opportunity to celebrate and honor the invaluable work and innumerable sacrifices of our frontline health workers. It is also a reminder that meeting today’s and future health challenges and making progress towards global health priorities including universal health coverage requires strong, resilient health systems and thriving health workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic—now in its third year—has taken a profound toll on the global health workforce. At Johnson & Johnson, we’re determined that frontline health workers emerge from this pandemic better equipped and supported than before. Below are five ways we’re working with our partners across the globe to help build the most supported, strongest health workforce ever.
1. Breaking down barriers to professional and career development
Building the strongest and most supported health workforce will only be possible if we lay the educational and professional development groundwork necessary for health workers to rise in their careers.
Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures (J&J Impact Ventures), an impact investment vehicle within the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, is investing in social enterprises, such as NextStep, that are working to break down educational barriers. Through tuition-free, hybrid programs, both in-person and online, NextStep provides accessible training and career support to current and aspiring health workers. Their programs are a powerful bridge for people seeking to be state-certified caregivers, increasing graduates’ projected lifetime earnings by almost 60% on average, regardless of their socioeconomic background, geography or schedule.
NextStep’s community model is also uniquely able to address the staffing shortage crisis of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs). CNAs are one of many essential, yet understaffed, healthcare roles impacted by high rates of retiring nurses and career changes amid the pandemic. Lessening the burden of training and professional development on caregivers can have regenerative impacts on overburdened health systems, relieving burnout and fulfilling demand for much-needed nursing candidates.
2. Improving equitable representation across health care delivery, research and medicine
In the U.S., persistent racial inequities resulting from systemic racism have heavily impacted health outcomes and fueled mistrust in health systems, especially among communities of color.
To build the strongest health workforce ever, we must prioritize equity in all of our interventions and efforts to improve health outcomes—especially for those who have been historically underserved. Johnson & Johnson has committed $100 million over the next five years towards ending racism as a public health threat by investing in and promoting healthy equity solutions through the Our Race to Health Equity initiative.
We have strengthened our 20-year partnership with National Medical Fellowships (NMF) to improve representation in healthcare and support students from underrepresented backgrounds in health and medicine. This includes a flagship program, the Diversity in Clinical Trials Research Program, which expands leadership representation in medical research roles, and the Alliance for Inclusion in Medicine Scholarship Program, which supports underrepresented in medicine medical students.
3. Empowering health workers to care for each other and themselves
Mental health and wellbeing must be urgently prioritized and addressed in the modern health workforce. According to accounts from health workers, open dialogue on mental illness has been historically viewed as weak or shameful in healthcare, despite it being one of the most impacted industries. COVID-19 has exacerbated this long-standing issue: over 70% of health workers in the United States struggle with depression and anxiety and nearly 40% experience symptoms of PTSD.
Johnson & Johnson has been championing healthcare workers for more than 100 years, and is dedicated to improving outcomes for those suffering from mental illness. This year, we proudly supported the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation and the ALL IN: Wellbeing First for Healthcare coalition in their historic victory: the signing of the bipartisan Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act into law. This landmark legislation aims to protect the mental health of U.S. health workers by fighting back against the policies and cultural stigmas that discourage them from seeking the help they need.
4. Ensuring PPE fits the health workers it’s designed to protect
Despite making up 70% of the global health workforce, women health workers have had to struggle with masks, goggles and gowns designed with men in mind.
COVID-19 has only brought out of the shadows this long-standing issue—as a report by Women in Global Health, supported by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, notes. At a recent event related to the report, we helped to convene a discussion around solutions to this critical issue using recommendations from the report. Notably, the World Health Organization reaffirmed their commitment to innovation around PPE and highlighted the importance of prioritizing gender equity in designs that protect frontline health workers.
5. Equipping today’s community health workers with tools that make providing care easier
Community health workers (CHWs) are crucial connectors at the point of care for hard-to-reach communities. They need modern tools to integrate their activities and their data collection. And that data—which crucially informs how CHW deliver care—must be trusted by communities and health systems to facilitate the best possible health outcomes.
To address this the J&J Center for Health Worker Innovation with support from Johnson & Johnson Foundation teamed up with Datakind, a global non-profit organization providing pro-bono data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence innovation to social organizations, such as the Lwala Community Alliance (Lwala).
The work of DataKind and Lwala in Kenya builds off of CHW’s use of mHealth data collection and service delivery platforms, and fosters innovation through application of data science and machine learning to automate data quality checks. The far-reaching impacts of this multisectoral collaboration have bolstered confidence in CHW-generated data and have even allowed for the investigation and evaluation of high- and low- performing metrics related to maternal and child health as well as water and sanitation. Equipping CHWs with scalable, digital tools like data integrity dashboards enables them and their healthcare systems to more effectively deliver health services and build community trust.
This World Health Worker Week, join us to celebrate and honor health workers on social media @jnjglobalhealth and visit our World Health Worker Week Action Hub page to learn about actions you can take to support frontline health workers. And stay connected to our work by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.