Frontline health workers: Saving lives and maximizing our global health dollars

Still seared in our memories are the horrific stories reported daily from West Africa in 2014 and 2015 – stories like five Liberian children left home alone for three days with corpses of their Ebola-infected parents because ambulance services were stretched too thin.
These tragedies, along with the global security threats related to Ebola, prompted bipartisan action from this Congress. Critical assistance from the American people helped frontline health workers  – such as nurses, midwives, and local pharmacists – combat the Ebola epidemic, and now helps the region monitor and respond to any new cases of the virus.
{mosads}Less reported, yet equally horrific, are cases of women and children who die daily in developing countries worldwide from very treatable and preventable illnesses like diarrhea, measles, or tetanus because they lack basic care by trained health workers.  Deficiencies in the frontline health workforce pose enormous hurdles to global health progress and security that demand a sharper focus and greater oversight of U.S. foreign assistance to train and support these workers.
That is why, together, we introduced House Resolution 419, which has strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, to recognize the importance of frontline health workers in saving lives and accelerating progress on global health.
Make no mistake, as a global community, we have made significant progress in recent years thanks in large measure to frontline health workers worldwide and to U.S. global health leadership and investments. International child mortality has dropped 49 percent in the last two decades, new HIV infections have dropped 50 percent in 25 low-and middle-income countries, malaria-related deaths are down 47 percent, and maternal mortality rates have been nearly halved.
What’s more, countries that have placed a strong emphasis on improving their frontline health workforce have achieved great progress. Take Nepal, for example. The government recruited and trained, at low cost, 50,000 women to volunteer as community health workers and formally linked them to the country’s health system. The result: Nepal achieved its goal of slashing maternal mortality by at least 75 percent from 1990 to 2015 more than a year ahead of schedule. After the April 2015 earthquake, Nepal harnessed the lifesaving power of frontline health workers to vaccinate over 500,000 children to prevent a deadly outbreak of measles.
America is leading the charge to build on global health achievements with a bold, yet achievable, vision to end preventable maternal and child deaths, usher in an AIDS-free generation, and ensure security from infectious disease threats like Ebola or pandemic influenza. Yet success will require reaching the estimated 400 million people who currently lack access to the essential services frontline health workers provide.
In programs across several agencies, the United States has trained hundreds of thousands of frontline health workers, and we are working with our partners to sustainably address health workforce gaps. These low-cost investments lead to great development returns. A panel co-led by the UN Special Envoy for Health recently found investment in frontline community health workers in sub-Saharan Africa can result in an economic return of up to 10:1 due to the reduction of risk of epidemics and increased productivity and employment from a healthier population.
Yet, there is no strategy or action plan across agencies to continue guiding this effort. This hampers both executive agencies’ and Congress’s ability to ensure that America’s global health investments reap the greatest possible return.
H.Res. 419 calls for such a plan.

Conservative investments in frontline health workers and a basic U.S. strategy can have an outsized impact to help millions in hard-to-reach populations access essential health care.
Today, in the middle of World Health Worker Week, we join the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, World Health Organization, and others in honoring the heroic sacrifices of health workers. Let’s come together to pass H. Res. 419 to continue the progress we’ve made to end preventable deaths and to help protect Americans from global health security threats for decades to come.

Democrat Nita Lowey represents New York’s 17th Congressional District. Republican Ander Crenshaw represents Florida’s 4th Congressional District. Both members serve on the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee for State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, on which Lowey is the Ranking Member.


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