African experts root for community health workers to tackle disease burden
A critical mass of trained and well equipped community health workforce is key to easing the rising burden of infectious and noncommunicable diseases in Africa, experts said on Wednesday at a continental forum taking place in Nairobi.
The experts, policymakers and campaigners who attended Africa Health Agenda International Conference agreed that optimal engagement of community health workers is key to revolutionize response to diseases ravaging the continent.
Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Health Cleopa Mailu in his opening remarks said that investments in training for community health workers will have multiplier impact on Africa's socioeconomic development.
"We require highly skilled and motivated cadre of community health workforce to deal with a high diseases burden in disadvantaged settings in this continent. These community health workers undertake bulk of care and treatment of killer diseases in rural areas," Mailu said.
African countries are grappling with a shortage of community health workers thanks to under-investment in skills upgrade, incoherent policies and poor remuneration.
Mailu stressed that community health workers are key to reducing high infant and maternal deaths in rural parts of Africa.
"It is the community health workers who attend to life threatening conditions like malaria, diarrhea and respiratory infections that blight children and women in marginalized areas," said Mailu.
He added that Kenya is committed to integration of community health workers in the mainstream healthcare system in line with global and continental pacts.
The inclusion of community health workers in the formal health systems across Africa is key to bridge human resource gaps in a sector that has a direct bearing on the continent's ability to achieve sustainable development goals.
The CEO of AMREF Health Africa, Dr Githinji Gitahi, said that policy incentives, training and technology adoption is key to increase the number of skilled community health workers in Africa.
"Investments in modern technologies like e-learning and mobile health will help address shortage of community health workers in areas they are needed most," Gitahi said.
He noted that mid-level and community health workers are responsible for provision of 80 percent of treatment and curative services in Africa.
"Community health workers are a critical part of Africa's health infrastructure, linking communities to care givers," said Gitahi.
He revealed that AMREF Health Africa and partners will soon launch a campaign to lobby African governments and corporations to invest in skills upgrade of community health workers.