Health workers issue heard loud and clear at UN

Health workers campaigners in New York. Photo by Ben Phillips
Steve Lewis
By Steve Lewis: October 5th, 2011

In New York, the issue of health workers was heard loud and clear at the UN General Assembly last month, through the actions of a wide ranging coalition of NGOs including VSO.  The aim was to bring attention to the global shortage of health workers and to encourage world leaders to be bold in tackling the health worker crisis.

Global support had been rallied through public hearings, social media, publicity stunts and parliamentary discussions.  The campaign received endorsements from a diverse range of supporters, such as the Sierra Leone Midwives Association, Desmond Tutu and WHO Director Margaret Chan.

Individual countries were asked to make pledges to address the health worker crisis in their countries, particularly in the context of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, Every Woman Every Child and Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.

VSO countries making or renewing commitments included Bangladesh, which committed to doubling the percentage of birth attended by a skilled health worker by 2015; and Ethiopia which pledged to increase the proportion of births attended by a skilled professional from 18% to 60%.

Not all countries responded, especially middle income countries.  The UK’s Department for International Development used the UN Summit to set out plans to save the lives of more than 7,000 pregnant women a year in Uganda and South Africa by projects aimed at increasing access to contraception and family planning.  But other countries made only vague promises or none at all.

The campaign raised the profile of the health worker issue but there was still a lack of major new commitments to the cause.  For a full list of the committments made at the Summit, see


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