Q&A: Kerry says community health worker model 'cannot be done in isolation'

LILONGWE, Malawi — Community health workers are seen by many, including donors, as a cost-effective solution to the problem of the global shortage of health care professionals. But depending so heavily on community health workers, without prioritizing investments toward training doctors, nurses, and midwives, will ultimately result in substandard care for patients, Dr. Vanessa Kerry, chief executive officer of Seed Global Health, told Devex during a recent trip to Malawi.

There is a shortage of millions of skilled health care professionals globally, with the most severe scarcities present in Southeast Asia and Africa. The World Health Organization estimates that there is a shortage of some 17.4 million health professionals across the world.  

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Seed Global Health, a United States-based nonprofit, is one of the organizations aiming to address this shortage. The organization brings American health professionals to Malawi, Liberia, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Uganda to train doctors, nurses, and midwives in-country. Its Global Health Service Partnership, a public-private collaboration with the Peace Corps and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, places health professionals “alongside local medical and nursing faculty counterparts to meet the teaching needs identified at each partner institution.”

Our conversation with Kerry has been edited for length and clarity.

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About the author

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    Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is Devex's East Africa Correspondent based in Nairobi. She is a reporter and producer, whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Nation magazine, among others. Sara holds a master's degree in business and economic reporting from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow.