On October 21, 2020, Last Mile Health CEO Dr. Raj Panjabi shared the following remarks at the World Bank Group and IMF Annual Meeting event on “Investing in COVID-19 Vaccines & Primary Health Care Delivery Systems.”
This summer, I came home after testing patients in a COVID-19 clinic where I was forced to reuse the same gown all day. When I got home, I didn’t want to risk infecting my family. So I took off all my clothes before entering the front door. My children were amused, but I was worried.
And I have been even more worried for my fellow health workers around the world. Without masks, community health workers knock on doors in the poorest neighborhoods to find COVID-19 patients. Without face shields, midwives try to deliver babies in community clinics. Without gloves, nurses canoe across rivers to deliver vaccines to families in the rainforest.
We applaud frontline health workers as heroes. We respect them but don’t protect them. Over 7,000 unprotected health workers have died from COVID-19.
We pray for them but don’t pay them. Over $1 trillion of work by women in health care – many as community health workers, nurses and midwives – goes unpaid.
Yes, vaccines can save lives. Yes, vaccines can speed up economic recovery. But no, vaccines will not be a ‘magic bullet’ – because vaccines don’t deliver themselves, health workers do.
We are honored to partner with many of you to invest in paying and protecting community-based health workers. We know this isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. We know every dollar we invest in community health workers returns ten dollars to the economy through saving lives and creating jobs. During this recovery, we should ask not only how our health policies, but also economic initiatives, can seize this opportunity to protect lives and livelihoods at the same time.
When epidemics like smallpox and polio threatened to bring humanity to its knees, community-based health workers did not surrender. They went door-to-door to vaccinate billions around the world. Now, health workers are prepared to go as far as it takes to control COVID-19. The question is, are we prepared to go as far as it takes to invest in them?