Investing in Health Workers to Achieve an AIDS-Free Generation

health workersWorldwide, people avoid being tested for HIV/AIDS, especially those working in high-risk situations. They fear the stigma that comes with HIV-positive status. Health workers trained in counseling and supporting HIV-positive patients can drastically impact the number of people willing to be tested in a community. Consequently they can help stop the spread of the disease.

Fear can be paralyzing when facing the reality of infection with a potentially fatal disease. As imperative as it is to be tested, this fear can prevent life-saving action. Practicing effective training and providing emotional support are vital for health workers who want to reach their communities.

“Since most areas with high rates of HIV face a shortage of health workers, there is an urgency to evaluate the impact of health workers and how we train the existing workforce so they can better connect people with life-saving care and treatment for HIV,” according to Shayanne Martin, Diana Frymus and Kim Roger, members of the Health Workforce Team in the Office of HIV/AIDS at USAID.

By working to optimize the health of their community; health workers are acting as agents of socioeconomic development. When a population is healthy and stable; education and employment opportunities expand, especially for women.

USAID and the World Health Organization (WHO) developed strategies to strengthen the health workforce in high-risk populations around the world.

In addition to increasing the number of workers, quality educational programs must be implemented. The training and experience of health workers are often ill-suited to the health needs of the communities they serve. Multi-disciplinary teams made up of clinicians, community health workers and health managers are essential to attain the range of skills required to meet the needs of key populations and adolescent girls.

“The global community is currently transitioning to new HIV treatment guidelines, known as Test and START, which will require a significant amount of support from health workers to be implemented,” according to the Health Workforce Team members.

As soon as a diagnosis of HIV is confirmed, the individual should immediately begin antiretroviral therapy rather than waiting for sickness to appear. Service delivery in hospitals and health clinics must be effective and sustainable. Healthcare facilities must support outreach and testing. Finally, training for laboratory workforces must be improved, and lab systems must be created to accommodate the scaling up of viral load testing.

Community-based care and support for resilience empower a population to be tested and take measures to eliminate the spread of HIV/AIDS. Combined with practical improvements in health workforces around the world, this strategy has the potential to reach an AIDS-free generation.

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Flickr