International Rescue Committee

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Seventy-second World Health Assembly (A72/1)
Agenda Item: 
- Community health workers delivering primary health care: opportunities and challenges

Person making statement: Dr Mesfin Teklu Tessema or Dr. Michelle Gayer

The International Rescue Committee supports the key principles and policy recommendations included in the Director-General’s report. Community Health Workers have been critical for success in expanding treatment access.

The IRC particularly supports the key principle that community health workers be considered a key piece of primary healthcare teams, with referral links and support from other health worker cadres. We also support including the adoption into policy guidance of supportive supervision strategies, the promotion of gender equity, and adopting service delivery models where community health workers are integrated into primary healthcare teams.

Community health workers play a vital role in strengthening primary health systems in crisis-affected contexts. The International Rescue Committee has been investing in training and supporting community health workers in these contexts for over fifteen years; in 2017 alone we supported over 20,000 community health workers. We have witnessed them continue providing services even during active conflict, as they have been displaced with their communities.

The role that community health workers play is essential. But recognizing the difficult reality that health facilities are often out of reach- especially in crisis contexts- we need to think critically about how their capacities can be expanded. The IRC has tested in operational research the feasibility of community health workers in South Sudan to treat children suffering from severe acute malnutrition: we saw that over 75 percent of children treated reached full recovery, surpassing the SPHERE standards. To truly achieve universal health coverage, countries must ensure the full development of community health workers as a key cadre for primary health care.