Every year, the start of April brings renewed attention to health, as the global community mark World Health Worker Week (4-8th April 2022) and World Health Day (7th April 2022). Mentor Mothers—the incredible women living with HIV employed by mothers2mothers (m2m) across sub-Saharan Africa—are working harder than ever to create health, hope, and an HIV-free generation, and we are using this time to renew our call for Community Health Workers (CHWs) to be fairly paid and formally employed everywhere, just as they are at m2m.
Celebrating The Impact of Community Health Workers This World Health Day
Community Health Workers—who come from and serve their local community— have been lauded for their ability to connect the vulnerable and marginalised to the health services and treatment they need, ensuring that support is available when and where it is needed most. They are a lifeline to the communities they serve, but never more so than at times of crisis, conflict, and disruption.
This is personified by Teddy, an m2m Mentor Mother in Uganda. At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Uganda implemented strict but necessary measures to limit the spread of this new disease, including reducing public transport. This meant that many clients faced walking up to three hours to attend medical appointments and pick up medication. Knowing that disrupted HIV services could see mother-to-child transmission of HIV double, Teddy took to her bike and cycled around her community to ensure families were a) informed of the risk that Covid-19 posed to those living with HIV and b) able to access any medication and care they needed.
An incredible story, with Teddy able to deliver impact not only because of her personal commitment and dedication, but also because she is formally employed and salaried. She—and her fellow Mentor Mothers—were declared as essential workers and provided with necessary safety training and equipment, meaning she could safely and confidently dedicate herself to her work…all without worrying about how to make ends meet for her family.
Fair Pay for CHWs Goes Far Beyond Health Outcomes
For Helena, an m2m Mentor Mother in Mozambique since 2019, the salary she receives for her work offered her the stability to rebuild her family after leaving an abusive marriage:
“I left with nothing, only my kids. But I won everything. With my pay check, I regained my self-esteem, and bought my land. With my work, I got my confidence back. Today, I can eat a pizza with my kids without having to depend on their father.”
The last two years have shown more than ever the desperate and urgent need to make societies healthier and to improve access to care to ensure that no one is left behind. Crucial to making this a reality are Community Health Workers like Helena and Teddy—yet too often they remain unsupported and undervalued. Since our work began more than 20 years ago, we have committed to fair pay and formal employment for the frontline health workers delivering services—but this is not common practice across the African continent, with only 14% of Community Health Workers in sub-Saharan Africa being salaried1. It’s time this changed. The work of Community Health Workers is too important for this not to be the norm.
Teddy’s and Helena’s stories exemplify the professionalism, courage, and dedication of frontline health workers all year round—as well as highlighting how being paid can also mean dignity, self-esteem, and freedom.
From our own experience, we know that fair pay and formal employment is just the start of a much more important ripple effect. By paying a fair salary to the m2m Mentor Mothers, our work not only improves the health and well-being of more than 1M women, children, adolescents, and families each year—it also creates vital economic empowerment opportunities for the women we employ.
So this World Health Worker Week and this World Health Day, we ask you to join us in shining a spotlight on the importance of Community Health Workers for thriving societies and well-functioning health systems. As the global health community continues the journey to make health for all a reality, ensuring no one is left behind, let’s make sure that Community Health Workers are not themselves being left behind.
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