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Radical Collaboration Protects Hard-Fought Health Gains Across Africa

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage throughout Africa and essential health services like immunization campaigns are interrupted, community health workers (CHWs) continue to play a key role in protecting their communities by providing vital and often life-saving care. The demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) has grown substantially and, in many countries, CHWs are not included in the forecasting for PPE. This lack of recognition puts the front line of primary healthcare “last in line” for this essential equipment.

The unequal distribution of PPE for CHWs both diminishes their role in the health system and threatens community health programs across the continent. Hard-fought health gains are lost because few of the services that CHWs offer can be done virtually or with home-made masks. Without vital PPE, CHWs are at risk of becoming disease spreaders and they risk their own health and that of their families.

At the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, we work to help ensure that health workers’ voices are heard and to improve the safety of their working conditions. We do this because we believe that solving the challenges faced by frontline health workers will help improve healthcare for everyone. This is why we responded to a call for support for the COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa (CAF-Africa) led by Direct Relief, VillageReach, Pandemic Action Network, CHAP, and the Community Health Impact Coalition and supported by more than 40 partners. We have come together in collaboration with Ministries of Health to embrace radical collaboration and solve how to get essential PPE to more than one million community health workers in 20+ countries across the continent of Africa.

CAF-Africa partners aggregate demand across the continent and then pool resources to unlock cost-effective PPE manufacturing options. They bring solid expertise from working across African supply chains including reaching the “last mile” as well as a deep understanding of government national systems. Many of these partners use their own funds and resources in service of collective impact and because they are committed to finding ways to increase access to quality healthcare for all.

Whilst the plan is to meet the immediate acute need, the broader objective is to build health systems for the longer term so that CHWs have access to PPE now and in the future. In one of the largest mobilization of private resources to protect Africa’s frontline health workers, the coalition has already committed/delivered almost 42 million pieces of PPE to more than 12 countries across the continent. For an update on the latest progress—check out the dashboard here.

Community health workers across Africa are appreciative—both at the prospect of receiving life-saving PPE and also because the supply of PPE translates into recognition for the importance of their work. Ramatu Usman Jalloh, a community health worker in Sierra Leone says that, “protecting a community health worker is like protecting the whole nation.” She explains that social distancing is difficult to do in her line of work, but PPE gives her the confidence to continue to do her job. Hear more from Ramatu here.

There has never been a better time to strengthen health systems—during a crisis and to catalyze system change. If you are linked to a private funder or foundation, we invite you to join us. Come and join the 40+ organizations in our quest for radical collaboration to protect community health workers across Africa so that they can continue their important work in safety and prevent the reversal of health gains in so many communities across the continent.