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A Pandemic Response Rooted in Community Health Provides a Blueprint for Building Forward

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A midwife in Grobogan, Indonesia supported by Project Hope talks to her client about health immunizations

At the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, we recognize that frontline health workers are the heart of strong community and primary care systems. When the world shifted its attention to health workers amidst COVID-19, the Center was already working with partners around the globe to strengthen community-based health systems by supporting frontline health workers to achieve health for all by 2030.

As the crisis unfolded, we remained steadfast in prioritizing the needs of frontline health workers and the realities facing our partners. Acting with agility and authenticity, we developed and deployed our COVID-19 response to address critical needs of the moment, while not losing sight of the Center’s five health worker-focused long-term priorities—Training & Education, Connection & Integration, Well-being & Resilience, Respect & Recognition, and Leadership & Management—that aim to build a thriving global frontline health workforce.

The strength of our longstanding partnerships allowed us to pivot already committed programming to COVID-19 response and invest in new initiatives as part of a $50 million commitment to support frontline health workers during COVID-19 made by the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies and the Johnson & Johnson Foundation.

This includes responding to opportunities as they emerged, such as addressing the unique challenges of providing care to refugee populations in Jordan and Syria through our collaboration with the International Rescue Committee and mobilizing the generosity of Johnson & Johnson employees through the Company’s matching gifts program to support initiatives such as the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and the CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 Campaign.

Below is a roundup of exemplary programs and partnerships supported by the Center in 2020 within five areas of response funding:

1. Keeping health workers safe

Health worker safety is foundational to functioning health systems and a moral responsibility to those who provide care in communities. A primary consideration in our response has been to work with partners to understand and seek to fill gaps in personal protective equipment, training and other safety needs of health workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

2. Accelerating application of digital health technologies

Given the need to reach more people in the midst of countrywide lockdowns and follow safety protocols like social distancing, healthcare during the pandemic went digital at an unprecedented pace. We are harnessing this momentum to help build the connected health systems that the world needs now and in the future, including mobile messaging to providers and communities, and in-service training and educational opportunities for frontline health workers.

  • With partners such as Praekelt.org, IntraHealth, UNICEF, CareMessage, ARMMAN, VillageReach and Mothers2Mothers, we are using readily accessible communication platforms, typically in partnership with WHO and national governments, to drive healthy behavior change, support patient monitoring, and ensure timely updates to communities and health workers. This includes mobile technologies with widespread community use like WhatsApp, SMS and automated voice messaging as well as exploring frontier technologies such as natural language processing and artificial intelligence to expand access to healthcare.
  • As health workers around the world required urgent information about COVID-19, we partnered with organizations including World Continuing Education Alliance, Community Health Academy and Foundation for Professional Development that are using digital learning platforms to educate health workers at scale and providing rapid content updates in response to changing needs and health worker feedback and engagement.
  • As community health workers operate in distributed teams, often across large distances and with limited face-to-face supervision, we have invested in partners such as Dimagi, Ona, Reach52 and Penn IMPaCT to develop and deploy effective digital technologies for disease surveillance, contact tracing, case management and referral to help them perform safely and efficiently.

3. Supporting well-being and resilience of frontline health workers

With burn-out among frontline health workers rapidly becoming a pandemic within the pandemic, we curated and co-created in evidence-based resources to provide mental health and psychosocial support for health workers in overwhelming need and those working in resource-limited settings.

4. Tackling inequities in health

COVID-19 has brought greater attention to the intersecting crises of inequitable health access and systemic racism, and redoubled the urgency to create more equitable health systems now and into the future.

  • We are making investments in diverse entrepreneurs whose solutions address healthcare inequities through Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures and scaling up programs that address racial and social injustices affecting the health of Black people and other communities of color in the US through the Johnson & Johnson Race to Health Equity platform.
  • To better understand the drivers and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic within the US and globally, we are partnering with Johns Hopkins University to generate more granular data and nuanced analysis around inequities in COVID-19 exposure, care and consequences as well as to systematically document public health policy interventions being implemented in the US and around the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

5. Harnessing the groundswell of interest and support in health workers to drive respect and recognition

We have sought to use our voice and global reach to ensure the spontaneous outpourings of gratitude toward health workers result in concrete actions by the public and global health leaders alike.

  • We launched a global #BacktheFrontline campaign to bring millions into the movement to support and champion frontline health workers, released the first private sector Frontline Health Workers Policy Position, and convened advocates on major topics in gender and preparedness through our collaboration with Women in Global Health on the #COVID5050 Action Labs.
  • We supported the new #CHWAdvocates campaign, which seeks to empower community health workers—most of whom are women—who are so often left out of national COVID-19 health workforce planning with the tools, knowledge, skills and opportunities to advocate for their profession.
  • In the US, we supported the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) with an educational grant to develop “Leading Through Crisis: A Resource Compendium for Nurse Leaders,” a free compendium of brief online modules to equip nurse leaders with practical tips and effective strategies for addressing challenges unique to a crisis. The materials have been sent to AONL’s 43,000 individual members as well as the 5,000 institutional members of the American Hospital Association.

The fight against COVID-19 is not over. But at the Center we believe now is the time to ask difficult and complex questions that will guide us to re-imagine the trajectory of health for humanity.

As many countries are into their second wave, the Center will seek to distill and share important learnings for community health that can serve as the blueprint to rebuild our community health systems to be better prepared for the future. While COVID-19 has caused the most significant threat to global health in the 21st century, what we have learned from the past year is that at every turn—whether it is through educating and mobilizing communities on social distancing and mask wearing, or through diligent contact tracing, or now by ensuring the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines—strong and well-resourced community and primary care systems are showing us the way forward.

Recent economic modeling for Sub-Saharan Africa showed that $1 invested in community health resulted in $10 saved for the health system. COVID-19 is no doubt a human tragedy, but at the Center we are looking at it as a generational opportunity—an opportunity to write a new societal contract and build forward towards a more equal and sustainable world. We will continue to actively engage with partners and governments on plans for long-term health systems strengthening to ensure that the front line emerges from this pandemic stronger than before.