“Every year, awards are given to recognize the accomplishments of celebrities, actors, singers, athletes and entertainers. Alongside the Oscars and Golden Globes in January, we will begin to honor a group of people who rarely receive recognition or accolades — health workers.” Mary Beth Powers, Campaign Chief for Save the Children’s Newborn and Child Survival Campaign
A few months ago I had an interesting and very enjoyable conversation with my 5-year-old son Dominik about community helpers - a common preschool theme. When I asked him who helps people when they are hurt, Dominik answered: “Doctors: they take people to ambulances and hospitals.” “Yes,” I replied, “How about nurses?” Dominik responded: “Well, nurses are weird doctors… When aunt Karen grows up, she will be a nurse.” “What do nurses do?” I continued with a smile. Dominik’s response was quite succinct: ”Everything!” He was not far from the truth.
Karen, my sister-in-law, has been an intensive care nurse for more than 20 years. Over the course of her career, she has done more for her community than most of us will be able to accomplish during our lifetime. She has tirelessly cared for people and comforted them. She has saved many lives and she has shed many tears for the lives that could not have been saved. The vision of a young mother dying while giving birth to her twins will probably hunt her forever. Yet, she had more to give and in 2011, she went on a medical mission to Haiti, fulfilling one of her life-long dreams. In the course of a week, she and her two teammates provided health assessments and basic medical care to 500 underserved students and teachers in a school sponsored by her church. She enjoyed every minute of it and she described the trip as “amazing, awesome, incredible, sad, tearful, joyful, and hopeful.” I bet she will do it again someday.
Some people enlighten us. Some people entertain us. And some people give us the greatest gift of all: they save our lives. For most doctors, nurses, community health workers, counselors, midwives, and other health care practitioners, being a health worker is more than a job; it is a lifelong commitment that, unfortunately, often goes unrecognized.
To develop greater respect and appreciation for the life-changing, and sometimes lifesaving, care provided by health workers in the U.S. and around the world, Save the Children, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Frontline Health Workers Coalition have created The REAL Awards: a first-of-its-kind global awards platform honoring REAL health workers who have made REAL and lasting difference in the lives of the families they have served. These REAL heroes truly deserve to be saluted, thanked, supported, respected, and empowered.
Last night I nominated Karen for the REAL Awards, which, I felt, was a good way of extending words of appreciation to her and to all nurses who are as committed to their patients and to their profession as she is. If I could, I would also nominate my grandmother who had spent more than 20 years caring for my grandfather before he passed away over 10 years ago. I have a lot of respect and admiration for home- and community-based health practitioners. Often unpaid and unnoticed, they are REAL miracle workers.
There are three simple ways to get REAL with the REAL Awards Campaign:
- CELEBRATE local community health worker heroes who are working under extraordinary circumstances to build stronger, healthier communities around the world. You may not have heard about Rekha Bangarwa from India or Hajara Niima Kera from Nigeria before, but when you read their stories you may determine that they are much worthier celebrating than most modern-day red-carpet “stars.”
- NOMINATE an inspiring health worker in the U.S. to be one of this year’s REAL Awards recipients. Nominations are accepted until Nov. 29, 2012. Voting will take place between Nov. 30, 2012 and Jan. 7, 2013. Honorees will be announced on Jan. 15, 2013.
- ACT: tell your Congressperson to co-sponsor H. RES 734, introduced in July 2012 by Representative Nita Lowey. The resolution commends American achievements in global health, reaffirms the role of frontline health workers in saving lives and fostering a healthier and more secure world, and underlines the need for leadership in solving the global health workforce crisis. The crisis is certainly REAL: Save the Children estimates that the world is short more than 5 million health workers, including one million frontline health workers, particularly in rural settings. Among others, the resolution calls on relevant U.S. government agencies, including USAID, Center for Disease Control, and Prevention, and the Department of State, to develop a coordinated and comprehensive health workforce strengthening strategy that focuses on increasing equitable access to qualified health workers in developing countries.
“Last year, more than 7 million children died before their fifth birthday. If that were a war, it would be among the bloodiest in human history. Most died from preventable or treatable threats such as diarrhea and pneumonia, with malnutrition contributing to a third of these deaths. Health workers are the soldiers on the frontlines of this war for survival. Every day, they win battles by diagnosing and treating the top causes of preventable child deaths. In fact, every three seconds a child’s life is saved by one of these heroes - with training supported by the U.S. government, non-profit organizations, and caring people like you.” Save the Children