In May 50 organisations came together to issue a simple but urgent call, for more health workers, better supported. Over the past months 50 organisations have grown to over 300 and millions of individuals have joined the movement –taking part in public hearings, rallies, online petitions, Facebook and twitter, pop concerts and seminars, stunts and parliamentary discussions. The Health Workers Count coalition has caused the health worker issue to rise up the agenda and rallied support for the importance of investing in health workers to save lives.
The commitments made
‘The unsung heroes, health workers, are in desperately short supply’ Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, opening the Every Woman, Every Child event on September 20
At the UN Every Woman Every Child events held on September 20 the role of health workers was referenced as central in the achievement of MDGs 4, 5 and 6 and governments joined the private sector and civil society to make new commitments to EWEC. Among those speaking specifically on health workers the new Nepal Prime Minister, Baburam Bhattarai,spoke about Nepal’s commitment to train and deploy 10,000 additional skilled birth attendants and Peter Baxter, Director General of AusAID, stressed the health workers that the Australian Government are supporting in Afghanistan.
This is just a glimpse of over 100 commitments made to EWEC:
- Ethiopia pledges to increase the proportion of births attended by a skilled professional from 18% to 60%;
- Bangladesh commits to double the percentage of births attended by a skilled health worker by 2015 and train 3,000 midwives;
- Uzbekistan committed to improve the quality of care provided to mothers and children by training 25,000 health workers;
- Congo commits to reducing maternal mortality and morbidity by 20% by 2015 and will provide free obstetric care and free access to caesarian sections;
- Indonesia will pay for at least 1.5 million deliveries by poor women in 2011;
- Burundi, Lao, and Papua New Guinea plan to increase skilled birth attendance.
More specific details can be found via the PMNCH and the EWEC.
Being the voice
Over the past months campaigners have been taking the message to the airwaves, the newspapers and online to engage people all over the world with our calls. Health worker messages have been hitting the headlines around the world including in Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Nepal, Pakistan. News from the General Assembly appeared on BBC World, Reuters, the Guardian, and Financial Times and more. A potential readership of hundreds of millions have seen our messages.
Online, the campaign has seen huge momentum – we reached over 5 million people with our messages on facebook and twitter. Thousands of people signed up to online petitions and transformed into health worker superheroes health workers on www.healthworkerscount.org. In New York, online bloggers, and social media enthusiasts attending the Social Good Summit also became health worker superheores for the day to lend their support – including USAID administrator, Raj Shah.
We saw the power of high profile bloggers such as Melinda Gates and Sarah Brown in spreading the word. As well as top national bloggers such as UK mommy blogger @christinemosler covering the UNGA and Spanish blogger @cosechadel66 visiting health workers in Cambodia.
Taking over New York
As the General Assembly began, hundreds of mums and supporters came together in New York’s iconic Times Square to create a giant human mosaic with one simple message: Health Workers Save Lives. Celebrity model and actress Alexis Bledel came along to support. The story was covered in nearly 50 different outlets totalling over 85 million impressions and the striking image of the human mosaic from the sky created a real buzz in New York and proved to be a social media hit, being picked up by blogs, and shared extensively on twitter.
Building the movement
The sticking plaster became the global symbol for the growing health worker campaign movement and soon the world’s biggest plasters began appearing in rallies and events across the world, from Germany to China Thousands of people have taken to the streets. Midwives from nearly 80 countries signed up to a series of national petitions, from Tanzania to Australia. In Bangladesh 25,000 pressed for change in support of national commitments to train more midwives and in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Norway health workers have joined ordinary people to campaign.
At the Every Woman, Every Child evening reception, Midwife Joan Shepherd from Sierra Leone encouraged nearly 30 high profile attendees to sign the giant health worker pledge and join the movement including Desmond Tutu, Beverley J. Oda the Canadian Minister of International Development, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus the Ethiopian Minister of Health, and celebrities including 50 cent, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Christy Turlington and Jennifer Connelly.
Running to save lives
On Wednesday, just two weeks on from the UNGA meetings, thousands of children in more than a dozen other countries across the globe, from Canada to China, competed in the EVERY ONE World Marathon Challenge demanding more health workers for the world’s poorest communities. World marathon record holders Patrick Makau, Paula Radcliffe and previous record holder Haile Gebrselassie supported the calls.
We have built great momentum and encouraged some champion governments to step up, but now we need to keep the momentum going, so that we further strengthen political commitment and concrete action for more health workers, and better support for those in place. That means campaigning and advocating about government planning processes, legislation and – crucially – budgets. It means continuing to work with our partners to keep this issue on the agenda.
Watch out for us campaigning at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia between the 28 – 30 October; our next major global push to close the 3.5 million health worker gap.