Frontline health workers are an essential component of health systems worldwide — without them, there is no access to care for people living with HIV or anyone else. Yet in 2012, the World Health Organization estimates a shortage of at least one million frontline health workers worldwide, with Africa the region in greatest need. PEPFAR, in collaboration with partner countries, is pursuing a number of initiatives to respond.
Our efforts are being reinforced by many actors around the globe. A growing number of health organizations, recognizing the life-saving impact frontline health workers offer, are committed to employing innovative strategies to address the crisis. Tomorrow, 37 of these organizations from the public and private sector are coming together in Washington to launch the Frontline Healthcare Workers Coalition . The coalition will seek to stimulate high-impact investments in frontline health workers in the developing world, in order to save more lives and foster healthier communities.
Through PEPFAR, the United States has been a leader in making such investments. As we have moved from an emergency response toward a more sustainable, country-owned approach, we have been strengthening health systems as the foundation to achieving long-term health objectives — such as the goal Secretary Clinton announced in November of an AIDS-free generation. PEPFAR and its implementing partners — many of which are represented in the new coalition — are working with partner countries to implement game-changing programs.
Two programs that exemplify our efforts to build lasting solutions are the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the Nursing Education Partnership Initiative (NEPI). Through these, PEPFAR seeks to alleviate Africa’s critical shortage of trained healthcare professionals and paraprofessionals, while developing sustainable local capacity to produce skilled doctors, nurses, and midwives for generations to come.
For medical education, over the five years of MEPI, PEPFAR, and the National Institutes of Health are providing $130 million directly to medical schools in a dozen African countries. The schools are using these funds to improve medical education, invest in innovative technologies, and strengthen educational resources. Funds are also used to support the research capacity of MEPI institutions, enabling African researchers and scholars to making invaluable contributions to the larger body of HIV knowledge.
In a similar fashion, PEPFAR is providing training and technical support to nursing and midwifery programs through NEPI. We recently launched NEPI in three countries — Zambia, Lesotho, and Malawi — that face extreme challenges in meeting the need for trained nurses and midwives, and will soon expand to additional countries. Partnering with Ministries of Health will be key to NEPI’s success, and Ministries have embraced the opportunities to collaborate to develop a strong nursing workforce.
These programs are building on Africa’s greatest resource of all — its people. To make a truly lasting difference in our health and development programs, we will continue to support this kind of work. On this and our other efforts to support human resources for health, we look forward to collaborating with the members of the Frontline Health Workforce Alliance.