The Frontline Health Worker Alliance reminds us that, “Frontline health workers are the backbone of effective health systems – and are those directly providing services where they are most needed, especially in remote and rural areas.” These are the people who make delivery of essential malaria prevention and case management services possible. They further note that April 3-9, 2016 is World Health Worker Week and “is an opportunity to mobilize communities, partners, and policy makers in support of health workers in your community and around the world.”
Unfortunately the very areas of the world that have the most malaria also have the greatest shortage of health workers as seen in Africa, South and Southeast Asia. In this situation skills and dedication of every single available frontline health worker are crucial for defeating malaria. This can only be achieved if they are up-to-date in the latest malaria programs.
For example, most malaria endemic countries in Africa have updated their malaria in pregnancy guidance to reflect the need to provide intermittent preventive treatment (IPTp) at every antenatal care visit after the 13th week of pregnancy with doses at a month interval. This means a pregnant woman may now receive 3 or more doses. What is still needed in many countries is full dissemination of this guidance to all frontline health staff so that they can implement this service correctly and fully.
As we move toward malaria elimination, more people will live in areas with unstable or epidemic transmission. The chances of developing severe malaria will increase. Updated skills on managing severe malaria that results in convulsions, chronic anemia and death are needed for these frontline staff.
Enhanced skills in surveillance are now needed as we move toward malaria elimination. Good diagnostic, record keeping and reporting skills are needed by frontline staff to help identify malaria transmission hotspots. Skills are also needed on treatment regimens that include transmission blocking medicines.
Vector control will remain an essential part of defeating malaria, but health workers will need to learn about new technologies as these become available. They will need skills for better targeting of complimentary interventions like larviciding. Continual efforts to manage routing distribution of long lasting insecticide-treated nets must ensure that health workers have the skills and resources to follow-up and promote actual use of the nets for their intended purpose.
Vaccines and other new technologies will become available for controlling malaria. Health worker capacity building will be needed to ensure each of these new additions to the malaria arsenal are implemented in the most effective manner.
From the foregoing we can see that there are many reasons why the malaria community should observe World Health Worker Week now and continue to build health worker capacity to defeat malaria throughout the year.