That is why this World Sight Day, and in the months ahead, our attention is focused particularly on the need to ensure health workers are not a barrier to good eye care and general health care, but facilitators of good care.
In September Sightsavers attended the UN General Assembly at which the MDGs and the post-2015 development framework were discussed. If we are to achieve better health for all – particularly those living in poverty, including people with disabilities – it is critical that the new post-2015 agenda focuses on creating the right conditions for people to live healthy lives. For Sightsavers that means ensuring that the right health systems are in place to deliver critical interventions. At the heart of those systems are eye health and health workers.
Addressing the global shortfall isn’t a solution that health workers can address alone. It requires sustained investment in national health financing by national governments and the international donor community. We need investment in salaries for health workers, in good terms and conditions of service, in skills development and training – and all this should be available not just in urban cities but in rural communities so that people, regardless of where they live or who they are, can reach a health worker.
Role of health workers in achieving UHC
In November the third global forum on Human Resources for health will discuss the contribution of health workers to achieving Universal Health Coverage. UHC ensures that people can access the range of primary health care services they need, including comprehensive eye care services, near their homes; ensures the effective coverage of those services, so that the hardest to reach populations, often people with disabilities, are targeted; and, contributes to improving social protection – protecting people from these catastrophic health costs.
Sightsavers’ experience shows that many people, often the poorest and including people with visual impairments, blindness or other disabilities, are excluded from accessing the health care they need because they cannot afford it or incur medical expenses that lead to further poverty. Each year, for example, 100 million people are impoverished through health spending[ii].
Health workers play a critical role in delivering these essential health services. Countries with fewer than 23 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people generally fail to achieve adequate coverage rates at primary health care level to achieve the targets set by the MDGs. Ghana currently has fewer than 1 doctor and 10 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. The UK in contrast has 27 and 94 respectively.