Vaccines don’t deliver themselves. It takes a health workforce.
Starting on 24 April, countries across the globe are uniting to celebrate World Immunization Week. Organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the week aims at promoting one of the world’s most powerful tools for protecting health – vaccines.
By eradicating diseases like smallpox from the globe and leading to the near elimination of wild polio virus, routine immunization has proven to be a powerful force to save and improve the lives of millions of people; however, vaccines don’t deliver themselves. In fact, the remarkable progress we have witnessed in global health in recent decades would have been impossible without the effective, responsive, and untiring support of health workers.
Around the world, health workers represent not only the beating heart of medical systems but also the core of immunization programs. Despite being often overworked and underpaid, health workers are on the front lines of health care in small clinics and in large hospitals, from Ethiopia to India. Without them, many people in cities and rural areas would have no access to vaccines at all.
As new vaccines are introduced that will provide protection against pneumonia, diarrhea, and other leading causes of childhood mortality, it will be vital to expand the current workforce and ensure maintenance of high levels of coverage. This will include, for instance:
- strengthening educational and training institutions so they can produce sufficient qualified health workers,
- providing financial and non-financial incentives to health workers so they can be attracted where they are most needed, and
- promoting gender equity so they can widen the available pool of talent.
Furthermore, as recent attacks on polio vaccinators demonstrate, health workers often operate in dangerous situations. The violence is often brutal. Health workers might be beaten, kidnapped, or shot at by snipers. Stronger measures are, therefore, required for the protection of health workers
On the occasion of World Immunization Week, the Global Health Workforce Alliance encourages its members and partners to take action to ensure that health workers are protected and supported in their efforts to successfully deliver vaccines to their communities.