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.
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Community Health Workers (CHWs) are playing a pivotal role in fighting COVID-19, especially in countries with vulnerable health systems. Beyond the pandemic, CHWs can contribute to advancing universal health coverage, but only if they are set up for success—according to the Community Health Impact Coalition (CHIC) which is working to make professionalized community health workers a norm worldwide.
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Johnson & Johnson has a long legacy of supporting the nursing community—and the challenges brought on by COVID-19 have only strengthened its commitment to find new ways to give back to these essential healthcare workers over the past year.
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John Lazame Tindanbil, Executive Director of MABIA-Ghana, is a recipient of the 2020 Aspen Nurse Innovator Grant in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Foundation. The grant recognizes nurse/midwife innovators for their innovative practices to provide healthcare access to marginalized communities.
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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.
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“Nurses are the front lines of public health,” says Kate Garrison, RN BA, who has been in the field for over two decades, including in her current role as case manager at a small community hospital in New England. Garrison feels the two disciplines—public health and nursing—need to talk to each other more. “Nurses are gathering public health data all day long,” she adds, “but it isn’t seen that way because no one is asking them to share that data.”
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Frontline health workers usually have higher than normal levels of stress while providing healthcare in communities. They are facing tremendous stress now in providing care and services, sometimes managing acute cases, through the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF has committed to addressing the mental health and psychosocial needs of frontline health workers across all of their work.
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At the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, we believe that sustainable improvements in the delivery of and access to quality primary care require a long-term commitment to enabling and supporting the well-being of the deliverer of care—the frontline health worker.
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During last year’s United Nations General Assembly, we introduced the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation to our partners and global health peers, who share our commitment of resources and resolve to support the health workforce. In light of the 18 million health worker shortage projected for 2030, our discussion touched on setting targets; meeting the needs of health workers today, not just tomorrow; the importance of leadership opportunities; and achieving greater recognition for all health worker cadres. The room felt united in appreciation that the hope of universal health coverage – which starts with strong community-based primary health care – is not possible without an equipped and empowered health workforce.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has cast new light on the essential and selfless role health workers play in providing care that has saved lives and reduced suffering. Yet it has equally revealed the challenges in maintaining well-functioning health systems as well as exacerbated the deep inequities and gaps in access to healthcare for those most vulnerable that we always knew existed, but as a society have failed to address.
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