Since the beginning of the Roll Back malaria Partnership in 1998 there has been strong awareness that malaria control success is inextricably tied to the quality of health systems. Achieving coverage of malaria interventions involves all aspects of the health system but most particularly the human resources who plan, deliver and assess these services. World Health Worker Week is a good opportunity to recognize health worker contributions to ridding the world of malaria.
We can start with community health workers who may be informal but trained volunteers or front line formal health staff. According to the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, “Frontline health workers provide immunizations and treat common infections. They are on the frontlines of battling deadly diseases like Ebola and HIV/AIDS, and many families rely on them as trusted sources of information for preventing, treating and managing a variety of leading killers including diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and tuberculosis.”
The presence of CHWs exemplifies the ideal of a partnership between communities and the health system. With appropriate training and supervision CHWs ensure that malaria cases are diagnosed and treated promptly and appropriately, malaria prevention activities like long lasting insecticide-treated nets are implemented and pregnant women are protected from the dangers of the disease. CHWs save lives according to Nkonki and colleagues who “found evidence of cost-effectiveness of community health worker (CHW) interventions in reducing malaria and asthma, decreasing mortality of neonates and children, improving maternal health, increasing exclusive breastfeeding and improving malnutrition, and positively impacting physical health and psychomotor development amongst children.”
CHWs do not act in isolation but depend on health workers at the facility and district levels for training, supervision and maintenance of supplies and inventories. These health staff benefit from capacity building – when they are capable of performing malaria tasks, they can better help others learn and practice.
A good example of this capacity building is the Improving Malaria Care (IMC) project in Burkina Faso, implemented by Jhpiego and supported by USAID and the US President’s malaria Initiative. IMC builds capacity of health workers at facility and district level to improve malaria prevention service delivery and enhance accuracy in malaria diagnosis and treatment. Additionally capacity building is provided to health staff in the National Malaria Control Program to plan, design, manage and coordinate a comprehensive malaria control program. As a result of capacity building there has been a large increase in malaria cases diagnosed using parasitological techniques and in the number of women getting more doses of intermittent preventive treatment to prevent malaria during pregnancy.
Malaria care is much more than drugs, tests and nets. Health worker capacity is required to get the job done and move us forward on the pathway to eliminate malaria.