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Looking Beyond Reach to Move Global Health Equity Forward

After reaching one million health workers earlier than anticipated, the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation is charting its path forward building upon its successes in the areas of education, leadership, advocacy and innovative health models to solve chronic health workforce challenges.
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In January 2020, the newly established Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation (the Center) announced its goal to support and champion one million frontline health workers by 2030 with skills, tools and growth opportunities through a $250 million commitment from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation and the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. Three years later, as noted in the recently released 2022 Johnson & Johnson Health for Humanity Report, programming guided by the Center has reached 1.3 million health workers, primarily nurses and community health workers. 

The Center was launched in response to the World Health Organization’s then projected shortage of 18 million health workers globally to achieve health-related Sustainable Development Goals, including universal health coverage, by 2030. While COVID-19 was yet to be declared a global pandemic, the establishment of the Center recognized that well-functioning primary and community health systems supported by resilient health workers would be critical to early detection and response to pandemics and pandemic preparedness. 

Building upon Johnson & Johnson’s century-long support for health workers, the Center was founded to catalyze efforts to respond to the human resources crisis in global health and build a thriving health workforce. With more than half the world lacking access to essential health services, the Center convened partnerships and collaborations based on the core belief that solving the challenges facing health workers would improve healthcare for everyone. 

“Three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we recognize that chronic shortages of health workers and underinvestment in their education and well-being are still major challenges to overcome,” notes Lauren Moore, Vice President, Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson. “The Center’s achievements to date have laid the groundwork for major work still ahead of us—from scaling up education and leadership initiatives to investments in catalytic advocacy efforts and innovative health models.” 

Examples of initiatives driven by the Center that contributed to reaching 1.3 million health workers in the first three years of the commitment period include:

  • The Center collaborated with long-time partner Aga Khan University to convene key stakeholders, including Kenya’s Ministry of Health, the Nursing Council of Kenya, nursing associations, academic organizations and funders to explore ways to alleviate the challenges facing the nursing profession in Kenya. The resulting launch of the Nurse and Midwife Alliance in August 2021 represented a turning point for nursing in Kenya, establishing a platform to convene nurse cadres in the country and facilitate professional growth.
  • The Community Health Units for Universal Health Coverage (CHU4UHC) Platform co-created with the Kenya Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to break down silos and integrate community health workers (CHWs) formally into the health system and deliver preventative and promotive healthcare was instrumental in the development of the Kenya Community Health Strategy. Developed through a multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral participatory process, with input from County Governments, Civil Society, Development Partners and, crucially, community members themselves, the strategy acknowledges the vital role of CHWs in bridging communities to health systems.
  • The lack of standard COVID-19 procedures and guidelines for nurses at the community level early in the pandemic led to a project with the World Continuing Education Alliance (WCEA) that is contributing to the continued education and training of up to 650,000 nurses and midwives across Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. WCEA’s virtual learning platform and mobile phone-based training capacity has enabled the rapid scale-up of this program that is delivering vital training and education opportunities to frontline health workers managing dual imperatives: to prevent and treat COVID-19 while also providing primary health care amidst a potentially devastating interruption of health services, particularly in already fragile health systems.
  • In Brazil, the Center collaborated with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and Hospital Sírio-Libanês (HSL) to launch ReConecTAR in 2021 to help boost well-being, satisfaction and engagement in health workers’ day-to-day working environment. This program, implemented across 100 public hospitals in Brazil and expanded to 20 institutions in Mexico, aims to identify the main obstacles to feeling joy at work that healthcare professionals face, and seeks to address them by implementing practical solutions.
  • In 2020, the Center collaborated with reach52 to support its rapid response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines that included developing and delivering training to CHWs and launching a chatbot in over 20 languages which geo-targeted accurate and timely information on the virus to residents of selected rural communities in five countries. The partnership has since expanded to focus on the use of technology in empowering and upskilling government-aligned CHWs in Philippines and Indonesia, working on campaigns covering infectious diseases, maternal child health, and non-communicable diseases such as mental health.
  • The Center partnered with UNICEF in India to build a thriving frontline health workforce and strengthen primary and community-based health systems in 13 states across the country. The program is helping to build the capacity of frontline health workers, better connect primary and community health systems through online training and improved data collection, and expand psychosocial support to frontline health workers providing care in primary health centers.

Embracing systems thinking for long-lasting change

At Johnson & Johnson, we are bold and ambitious in the social impact commitments we make and hold ourselves accountable to reporting on them. As we celebrate reaching 1.3 million health workers, we are challenging ourselves to look beyond that single metric and ask ourselves how the Center’s work is contributing to move health equity forward for the long-term.

That is why the Center is taking a systemic approach to health systems transformation. We cannot achieve universal health coverage without adequate numbers of resilient health workers—and we cannot close the health worker gap without systems that support them, from providing them compensation and opportunities for professional growth to ensuring that their workplaces are safe and properly equipped.

To that end, the Center will continue to invest in technology that strengthens health systems, including digital public goods that can be replicated in local contexts to extend the reach and capacity of the health workers. In all its work, the Center prioritizes the well-being of health workers and, through efforts such as The Resilience Collaborative, will help build a culture that values resilience throughout health systems around the world.

“As the Center seeks to gain a fuller picture of how we are helping to drive change, we are working with partners to ensure that health workers who participate in our programs report an actual improvement in areas such as knowledge building, resilience, collaboration and leadership,” adds Moore. “Reaching this milestone is incredible and it is driving us to do things even better. We are peeking under the hood and asking ourselves what the numbers actually mean for building the global health workforce we need—as well as well-functioning and enabling community-based health systems to support them and make healthcare work for everyone."