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A Call for Action: Strengthening Community Health Workers in Africa

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A Call for Action: Strengthening Community Health Workers in Africa

African leaders convening in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are reflecting on the progress made since the pledge in 2017 to deploy two million community health workers. With a looming shortage of six million health professionals by 2030, these community actors are seen as a crucial solution to meet the continent’s healthcare needs. Developing resilient programs for these workers is now more urgent than ever.

The importance of community health workers has been exemplified by the experiences of countries like Liberia. Initially facing challenges with inadequate compensation, lack of resources, and training, Liberia revamped its National Community Health Care Program in 2016. Empowering community health workers with proper support resulted in significant improvements in healthcare services, including a drastic reduction in child mortality rates and increased access to health services, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Similar success stories have been seen in other African countries like Ethiopia, where their Health Extension Program has led to increased vaccination rates and improved child health outcomes. Integrating community health workers into national health systems has proven to be a cost-effective and sustainable way to save lives and improve health outcomes across the continent.

However, a significant funding gap of $4.4 billion annually continues to hinder progress in expanding community health worker programs. To address this, a coordinated approach, such as the “one plan, one budget, one report” framework used by Liberia and Ethiopia, is crucial for mobilizing resources effectively and reducing bureaucratic obstacles.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its partners have launched a continental monitoring mechanism for community health to enhance collaboration and coordination among stakeholders. This effort aligns with the African Union’s initiative to deploy two million community health workers, emphasizing the importance of strengthening the community health workforce to address current and future health challenges in Africa.

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The recent commitment of 12 partners at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Dubai to accelerate support for professional community health workers is a step in the right direction. However, private and public actors must take coordinated action to prioritize the development of a professional community health workforce with clear metrics of success.

In conclusion, investing in community health workers is key to building a healthier and more prosperous Africa. By training and deploying a robust corps of these essential workers, African countries can better address healthcare challenges and improve health outcomes for all.

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