Intended for healthcare professionals


Health workers are vital to sustainable development goals and universal health coverage

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 23 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1357
  1. Lara Fairall, associate professor1,
  2. Eric Bateman, emeritus professor1
  1. 1Knowledge Translation Unit, University of Cape Town Lung Institute, Cape Town, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to: L Fairall Lara.Fairall{at}

Interventions to support a bigger and better trained work force must be prioritised

On international woman’s day earlier this month many major news outfits carried the story of Salome Karwah, who in 2014 featured on the cover of Time magazine for her work during the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.1 Karwah has died at the age of 28 from complications arising during the birth of her fourth child. Tragic for many reasons, her death highlights persistently high maternal mortality rates, especially in Africa, which contributes 20% of the world’s births but 40% of the world’s maternal deaths.2 It also highlights that stigma can be lethal; her husband reported that hospital workers avoided her because she had worked with and survived Ebola. And it highlights that providers can be patients too.

But perhaps most importantly, Karwah’s premature death is a reminder that the health system improvements promised during crises such as the Ebola outbreak are slow to materialise. Responses such as fast tracking the development of an Ebola vaccine tend to eclipse the scaling up of proved, cost effective interventions to meet the health related sustainable development goals. These identify maternal health as …

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