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.
Despite their deep responsibility for the health and well-being of communities around the world, they are not always respected or recognized. Women, in particular, make up over 70% of the total health and social care workforce and an even larger share of the nursing and midwifery profession, yet only comprise 25% of health system leadership roles.
At the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, we are working to ensure that these health workers’ voices are heard, their work is fairly compensated, their working conditions are safe and decent, and their roles are formalized and integrated within the health system:
Raising the collective voice
We’re proud to work with like-minded partners to raise the visibility of nurses and midwives, and their collective voices. By listening to the challenges that they face and their articulation of what they need, we are better informed to provide support. We collaborated with Nursing Now and IntraHealth International to spotlight these realities in The Nurse Leadership Report, drawing from a review of existing literature, a survey of 2,537 nurses and nurse-midwives from 117 countries, and eight key informant interviews of nurse leaders. The report provides an in-depth analysis of the gender-related barriers to and facilitators of nurse leadership. Additionally, we highlight key actions that need to be taken in order to strengthen the nursing and midwifery profession, including the ability of the profession to recruit and retain the primary health workforce needed to make quality, essential healthcare accessible to everyone, everywhere.
Empowering health workers to advocate for their profession
For too long, conversations about community health workers have been taking place without CHWs in the room. It’s time for change, and that’s why we’re working with partners like the Community Health Impact Coalition to support the #CHWAdvocates campaign, which seeks to empower community health workers, many of them female, with the tools, knowledge, skills and opportunity to advocate for their profession. The training, designed specifically with CHWs in mind, will help them develop storytelling and advocacy skills. To maximize the training’s accessibility, it will be delivered via a smartphone application and available in multiple languages. There are many ways to support the #CHWAdvocate campaign; visit here to find out more.
Recognizing the need for a generation of future leaders within the midwifery global community, we’ve teamed up with the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) to support the Young Midwifery Leaders program. This two-year program provides selected young midwives with a unique opportunity for leadership development, helping them deliver as leaders in their professional lives and the communities where they work. It challenges them to broaden their knowledge of key policy areas in maternal and newborn health and create innovative projects to address some of the biggest global health challenges of today. Meet some of these inspiring leaders here.
Our efforts to empower health workers to speak up for what they need are anchored in our Frontline Health Workers Policy Position, a first from the private sector. Developed in partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Government Affairs and Policy teams and informed by our work with our frontline partners, our policy position reflects our unwavering commitment to advocate for frontline health workers, and our vision for a world where they are recognized and valued by the communities they serve, and accredited and compensated by governments and health systems. We believe it’s critical to make the concerns of frontline health workers a priority on policy agendas—at every level—to usher through systemic changes that can adequately support health systems and communities.
Providing the platforms to raise their voices
Frontline health workers gather invaluable insights into the functioning of a health care system at the patient level. Their unique perspectives on the challenges of the health workforce, and potential solutions, need to be heard in order to drive pragmatic innovation and policy change at the health system level.
We work with amazing partners who provide effective platforms for these strong voices. We have proudly partnered with Women in Global Health to produce and curate 5 Action Labs as part of their COVID 50/50 initiative. The Action Labs are interactive panel discussions that drive local advocacy. Each session also provides participants with advocacy tools linked to the #COVID5050 Five Asks for Gender-Responsive Health Security. Bounmy Inthavong, a participant in the ICM Young Midwifery Leader (YML) program, participated in the most recent action lab, where she used the skills she learned through the YML program to share her thoughts around safe and decent work for women in health.
Nobody can advocate better for frontline health workers than those on the front lines; we must raise their voices. They have unique perspectives and solutions to offer on health care system challenges. COVID-19 has opened the door for genuine praise and recognition for these frontline heroes. Now we must amplify that respect and recognition—and convert it into positive change that drives recruitment of new young professionals into these important professions, and elevates the voices of all nurses, midwives, and community health workers to positively impact policy change.