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Advocating for Respect & Recognition for the Frontline Health Workforce

The Center’s Respect & Recognition work is designed to give health workers the tools and agency to advocate for themselves and make meaningful changes by building alliances, spotlighting frontline voices and working with governments across the world.
Adrianna working at the Luzia de Pinho Melo Hospital ICU Adrianna working at the Luzia de Pinho Melo Hospital ICU
Adrianna working at the Luzia de Pinho Melo Hospital ICU

The world was facing an 18 million health worker shortage before COVID-19 hit, with frontline health workers often feeling neglected, underpaid and undervalued. The pandemic further exacerbated the problem and many are leaving the profession all together.

The Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation is committed to supporting a thriving frontline health workforce of nurses, midwives and community health workers, with our efforts focused on five key challenge areas:

  • Training & Education
  • Leadership & Management
  • Well-being & Resilience
  • Connection & Integration
  • Respect & Recognition

While Respect & Recognition incorporates elements of each of the other challenge areas, it has its own, crucial focus: ensuring that health workers’ voices are heard, that their work is fairly compensated, their working conditions are safe and decent, and their roles are formalized and integrated within the health system. This is key to recruiting and retaining the primary health workforce needed to achieve global health priorities such as universal health coverage.

The Center’s Respect & Recognition work is designed to give health workers the tools and agency to advocate for themselves and make meaningful changes by building alliances, spotlighting frontline voices and working with governments across the world.

Gathering evidence with research

Research is a vital tool in the arsenal of health workers and policy makers alike. The Center collaborates with a range of partners to commission original research around crucial issues that health workers face and collect stories and data to build evidence and support relevant policy recommendations.

One such partner is UNFPA, which invests significantly in educating and training midwives to deliver quality maternal and newborn healthcare globally in over 125 countries. The Center is working with UNFPA to explore the challenges faced by midwives worldwide and making the case for increased global investment in midwifery education. This includes Johnson & Johnson Foundation support for the State of the World’s Midwifery 2021 Report, which highlights that a professionalized midwifery workforce plays an integral part in avoiding maternal mortality, as well as a multitude of other maternity-related issues.

The Center partnered with Nursing Now and IntraHealth International on a Nurse Leadership report that focused on nurses and midwives, who represent 50% of the projected global health worker shortage. By drawing from a review of existing literature, a survey of over 2,500 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 nurse leadership, and offers a set of corresponding recommendations for policymakers and implementers at the global, national and institutional levels.

The Center has also worked with Women in Global Health to explore gender equity in health from a different angle: the fit and design of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The #FitForWomen report, supported by the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, exposed that the manufacturing specifications for medical PPE are usually drawn up based on the male body, despite the fact that 70% of health workers are women. This became particularly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the rapid onset and scale of the virus led to shortages of PPE in most countries, causing preventable infection and mortality among health workers and others on the front lines. Using global research, the report reveals how PPE is a gender equity issue that requires urgent addressing.

Capacity-building for advocacy

Capacity-building—the process of developing and strengthening the skills, abilities, processes and resources that allow individuals, communities and organizations to thrive—is a crucial part of supporting health workers to claim their rightful Respect & Recognition. In fact, community health workers with leadership or advocacy training are two-to-four times more likely to engage in political, civil and workplace advocacy.

Empowered by research, the Center strives to help health workers advocate for themselves and their profession in front of governments and other important stakeholders.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN), a federation of more than 130 national nurses associations representing more than 27 million nurses worldwide, aims to ensure the global presence of a respected nursing profession and a competent and satisfied nursing workforce. With support from Johnson & Johnson Foundation, the Center helped ICN launch the Organizational Development of National Nursing Associations (ODENNA) partnership to strengthen nursing associations in Africa and to pave the way for a global scale-up of the concept. The ODENNA partnership will bring together ICN’s national nurses associations and Nursing Now groups in Africa with the goal of improving protection, support and advocacy for nurses on the ground.

Another crucial partnership for capacity-building is with the International Congress of Midwives (ICM), which supports, represents and works to strengthen professional associations of midwives throughout the world. With support from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, the Center is working with ICM on the Young Midwife Leaders program, which challenges young midwives to broaden their knowledge of key policy areas in maternal and newborn health, and to create innovative projects to address some of the biggest global health challenges of today. The program aims to identify young midwives with the potential to become leaders within their national midwifery communities and to build their capacity to become the global and regional midwifery leaders of tomorrow.

With support from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, the Center also collaborates with the Community Health Impact Coalition (CHIC) on #CHWADVOCATES, a campaign to include CHWs in high-level decision making. Created together with CHWs as experts, this free digital training equips CHWs with skills to advocate for solutions that address issues impacting their profession and their patients. CHWs can access the course in three languages (English, Spanish, and French) through a dedicated web platform and a facilitator guide for in-person training.

Raising awareness and building alliances

Internal and external alliances are at the heart of the Center’s Respect & Recognition work, including with colleagues in Johnson & Johnson’s Government Affairs & Policy division to influence policy in relation to nurses, midwives and community health workers. For example, the teams worked closely with the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation to advance the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. This is the first ever legislation directed at protecting the mental health of the U.S. healthcare workforce by ending the culture of fear among healthcare professionals who seek mental health support and treatment.

The Center is also part of the steering committee for the Frontline Health Worker Association, an alliance of U.S.-based organizations working together to urge greater and more strategic investments in frontline health workers in low- and middle- income countries as a cost-effective way to save lives and foster a healthier, safer and more prosperous world.

In addition, the Center provides a platform for frontline voices and health worker advocates through various events and communications strategies. This includes the Front Line in Focus webinars which featured topics such as Nurse Leadership and the 2021 SOWMY learnings, and a collaboration with the Financial Times to produce a series of articles that explore and build awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing the global health workforce through stories of individual health workers based in different parts of the world.

Working together to create change

Collaboration is key to the Center’s Respect & Recognition work, and we are always open to hearing from new organizations that share our belief that if we solve the challenges facing frontline health workers, we will improve healthcare for everyone. To stay connected with our work, please subscribe to the Center’s monthly newsletter and/or follow us on social media @jnjglobalhealth.