This is an introductory blog on the importance of community health workers in achieving universal health coverage and strengthening global health. This blog is based on author’s personal experience.
Community health workers (CHWs) are the unsung heroes of healthcare. They play a vital role in bringing healthcare services to remote and rural areas, where access to healthcare is often limited. CHWs are often the first point of contact for patients, providing preventive care, treatment, and referrals to higher-level facilities when needed. Despite their importance, CHWs are not always valued or recognized enough. They often work long hours for low pay, with limited training and support. This can lead to burnout , which ultimately undermines the effectiveness of the healthcare system.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the tremendous contributions of CHWs during research fieldwork in rural India. Although I had some prior awareness of the importance of CHWs from my brief experience practicing medicine, I was surprised to see the extent to which remote regions were dependent on CHWs for all preventive and antenatal care. While primary health centers and other healthcare professionals have a vital role, CHWs were responsible for the basic and most essential healthcare delivery, including routine antenatal care, newborn care, general well-being, and providing a listening ear for people to talk to (indirect mental health well-being). I was truly impressed by the CHWs’ ability to motivate women to quit or reduce tobacco use during pregnancy, which is a critical public health issue. This experience showed me that CHWs have a unique understanding of community members’ needs and provide a holistic approach to their well-being that physicians in clinics can seldom achieve. The trust and connection that community members build with CHWs increase the efficiency of healthcare delivery, making them an invaluable resource in achieving universal health coverage.
However, my experience also highlighted some challenges faced by CHWs, such as lack of training, excessive workload, and the potential to lose motivation. These challenges have been particularly acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the world has witnessed the excellent contributions of CHWs in delivering health in remote regions, especially during vaccine campaigns.
As we continue to advocate for universal health coverage, it is essential that we recognize and value the contributions of community health workers and work to address the challenges they face. We need to better support and empower CHWs to continue delivering high-quality, essential healthcare services in remote and underserved communities. Ultimately, investing in CHWs is crucial to achieving universal health coverage and improving health equity around the world.
Authors – Dr Radha Sharma
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