AFRICA’S health workers and the conditions under which they work should be topmost agenda in any effort to equip the continent with resilient health systems to withstand future emergencies, Director of the Institute of Capacity Development (ICD) and Emerging Countries at Amref Health Africa, Dr George Kimathi, has indicated.
In an email response to Business Finder’s special focus on the upcoming Africa Health Agenda international Conference (AHAIC), Dr Kimathi said the organisers of the conference were not oblivious of the importance of health workers in the scheme of things when it comes to resourcing the health sector in Africa.
The conference, in its fifth edition is set to take off from March 5 to 8 in Kigali, Rwanda on the theme, ‘Resilient Health Systems for Africa: Re-envisioning the Future Now.’
Commenting on one of the sessions (plenary four) titled ‘Protecting the Health Workforce of Tomorrow: Conflict, Climate Change and Beyond,’ Dr Kimathi said “we will use this session to amplify the critical message that, health workers are at the center of strong and resilient health systems.
Quoting the celebrated novelist, Chinua Achebe’s famous saying “If the center does not hold, things will fall apart, ” Dr Kimathi noted “we must ensure this critical center holds firmly.”
The conference, he pledged will delve into the seminal challenges that bedevils today’s health worker in Africa and therefore lobby governments, multilaterals, private sector and non-profits to make this their top priority.
“We will demonstrate how strenuous working conditions, overworking due to unemployment and underemployment, lack of working tools, equipment, medical supplies, basic amenities including accommodation, water, sanitation, working in conflict and fragile areas, lack of psychological safety and increased stigma including mental health is severely impacting Africa’s efforts to build a resilient health system,” the ICD Director at Amref stated.
Dr Kimathi told this reporter overall responsibility will be placed on the shoulders of governments who are the primary duty bearers mandated to provide the necessary leadership (political and otherwise) to coordinate action.
He further disclosed that the session on health workers will lobby other key stakeholders including non-state actors to commit investments towards protecting health workers.
“At a practical level we’ll challenge governments to develop and implement clear policy frameworks and guidelines for HW protection and commit resources for execution,” Dr Kimathi stated,
These actions must be geared towards ensuring health workers have decent working conditions, commensurate and equitable pay, appropriate hazard and medical cover, mental and physical health, predictable career development pathways and addressing gender pay gaps.
The conference, he pledged will make a strong case for health workers’ meaningful engagement in all these conversations.
“That means ensuring health professional bodies are actively at the table when these deliberations are taking place. Further, we will raise the urgency for action, that health worker protection can not wait, it has to be done now because ‘protecting the health workforce is the surest way to protect the health system” he concluded.
Shift from aid to Public-private partnerships
These, Dr Kimathi intimated are mutually beneficial partnerships between public and private sector entities based on sustainable business models. According to him, “this calls for a shift from aid to business where the private sector invests for returns while governments focus on provision of essential health services.”
Multi-sectoral partnerships and investments
Protecting health workers can only be realized through a multi-sectoral approach. Health workers need security, accommodation, water, health infrastructure and technology. Relevant ministries/departments must be involved to address these needs. Most importantly Treasury/Finance is a critical player in this ensemble. Ministries of Finance must be onboarded from the start in order to provide the necessary resources.
Long-term domestic financing
Governments must mobilize sufficient domestic resources on a long term basis to train, retain and motivate health workers and support then to deliver quality services. Further, it is important to re-calibrate international development funding and create dedicated investments for the health workforce.
This, he pointed out could mean ringfencing a percentage of the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), blended financing or lobbying for debt cancellation, with concrete mechanisms to ensure these resources are directed to HWF development and support. However, it should be noted that international funding must only augment solid commitments in domestic budgets.