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World Health Worker Week celebrates unsung heroes

By Saumu Juma, Implementation Specialist, BID Initiative Tanzania, and Celina Kareiva, Communications Associate, BID Initiative

Apr 5, 2017

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Photo: PATH/Trevor Snapp. For health workers like Beatrice Owawa (left), an RCH nurse at USA River Government Health Center in Tanzania, and Oliver Mlemeta (right), sister in charge, data use tools have made it easier for them to perform their day-to-day responsibilities among a workforce that has been historically overworked and understaffed.

They are caretakers, educators, neighbors, peers, and family. They are also a critical backbone for health systems across the developing world, providing life-saving services directly to communities, even in the most remote, rural areas. Health care workers (HCWs) are often the first, and sometimes only point of contact with the health system – particularly in low and middle-income countries. But with a projected shortage of 18 million health workers required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, HCWs are also often overworked and undervalued.

The fifth annual World Health Worker Week (WHWW) is an opportunity to celebrate HCWs, to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the nurses, doctors, midwives, and peer counselors on the frontlines, and to mobilize health systems in their favor – something the BID Initiative strives to do in Tanzania and Zambia by improving the quality, consistent collection, and use of immunization data. BID is empowering health workers on the frontlines with reliable data, in real-time.

Photo: PATH/Trevor Snapp. Beatrice Owawa, a nurse in Tanzania, says data use tools are creating efficiency in her day-to-day work.

For HCWs like Beatrice Owawa, a RCH nurse at USA River Government Health Center in Tanzania, the previous paper-based systems for administering, monitoring and reporting vaccines can lead to a heavy workload burden, taking valuable time away from patients.

“I have the responsibility of ensuring that all children visiting the clinic have been registered in the electronic immunization registry (EIR), have their weights recorded and parents counselled according to how the child is doing,” says Beatrice. “I also do vaccination, order stock to cover all children coming in a particular month and [look] at the auto-generated reports, interpreting them and making decisions that will make my performance better.”

Simple interventions – such as data use campaigns, bar codes for child health cards, and WhatsApp groups that offer peer support to HCWs and another resource for locating and sharing vaccine supplies – bring HCWs into the fold and empower them to become agents of change. When Beatrice sees that a patient has missed a vaccine dose, she can follow up. If she notices a particular vaccine is running low, she can proactively order more.

“I’ve been provided with tools like the EIR and knowledge on how to use it in my day-to-day activities,” explains Beatrice. “It’s simplified my work and now I have more time to serve many children at once.”

Well-performing health information systems are a critical catalyst for improving health outcomes. But to bring about the transformative power of information, it is the frontline health workers – the doctors, nurses, and CHWs, like Beatrice – who require information to make informed, intelligent decisions.

“[This WHWW] celebration has come at the right time,” says Beatrice, “because we have something that we can really celebrate.”

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