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The African Union Endorses New Community Health Worker Campaign And 2013 Roll-Out

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Jan 28: ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: At the opening of the African Union’s 20th session Sunday, African leaders announced their support for the new community health worker campaign that was launched by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Professor Jeffrey Sachs and Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez at the World Economic Forum last week. The AU agreed that urgent effort is needed for African nations to meet the Millennium Development Goals, and that the new healthcare campaign will be critical to success.

“I believe the One Million Community Health Workers campaign will certainly go a long way in helping us make progress towards achieving the health-related MDGs,” said Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn in his opening remarks. Hailemariam is also the incoming chairman of the African Union, which will be working closely with the campaign to train and deploy hundreds of thousands of health workers this year. “I wish to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to my good friend and brother President Paul Kagame, Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez and Director of the Earth Institute Professor Jeffrey Sachs for launching this important initiative.”

The new One Million Community Health Worker campaign will work with governments and aid agencies to finance and train the health workers, each of whom would serve an average of 650 rural inhabitants, at an estimated cost of $6.58 per patient per year. This adds up to an estimated $2.5 billion, which includes funding already being spent by NGOs and governments on these programs. These estimates fall within projected governmental health budgetary constraints and are within the boundaries of donor assistance already pledged and anticipated.

“This is a bold campaign: one million workers in just three years,” said Sachs. “It’s a stretch, but it’s possible if the public health community moves very fast. The absolute sine qua non will be the leadership of the African Union and each country, and based on the incredible support vocalized here in Addis, I know that we can count on that.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, around 10 percent of children die before reaching the age of 5. Maternal death rates are high. Many people suffer unnecessarily from preventable and treatable diseases, from malaria and diarrhea to tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Many countries are struggling to make progress toward the health-related Millennium Development Goals partly because so many people live in rural areas beyond the reach of modern health care. Trained community health workers — equipped with cell phones that allow them to get telemedical advice — can transform the rural health situation.

The One Million Community Health Worker campaign will be overseen by a steering committee at the Earth Institute and will be run through the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network as part of its Solutions Initiatives. The effort is also supported by the UN MDG Advocates and the UN Broadband Commission, both of which are co-chaired by President Kagame. The campaign and Sachs, in his role as special advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, will work with the international community — businesses, UN agencies, donor organizations, telecommunications companies — to build partnerships to support the national programs. In addition, a political leadership committee is being formed, with outgoing AU chair Yayi Boni of Benin, incoming AU chair Hailemariam and President Kagame confirmed to help to steer the project.

The campaign aims to boost the community health worker programs and policies of many leading institutions, including: GAVI Alliance, Glaxo Smith Kline, Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, RESULTS, Roll Back Malaria, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNAIDS, UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, United Nations, USAID, the World Bank, WHO Millennium Villages Project, and Millennium Promise. For a list of participants in the campaign, please visit: http://1millionhealthworkers.org/partners/.

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For more information on the One Million Community Health Workers campaign, visit: http://1millionhealthworkers.org/

Press contacts: Erin Trowbridge, trowbridge@ei.columbia.edu

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