WHO Says International Action Needed to Increase Healthcare Workforce

GENEVA -- A new international Task Force was launched and met for the first time earlier this month to tackle the global shortage of healthcare workers. With a shortfall of 4.3 million healthcare workers worldwide, including more than 1 million in Africa alone, there is an urgent need to increase the number of doctors, nurses, health managers and other healthcare workers needed to face immediate health crises.

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), commented, "The simple fact is that the world needs many more health workers. The world faces global as well as local threats to health. Infectious diseases have staged a dramatic comeback, and chronic diseases are on the rise. We cannot improve people's health without staff to deliver healthcare.

The new global Task Force, chaired by Lord Nigel Crisp, former chief executive of the National Health Service in England, and Bience Gawanas, the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, has been set up under the auspices of the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA). The Task Force includes two African Ministers of Health Dr Stephen Mallinga of Uganda and Marjorie Ngaunje of Malawi -- and senior health policy makers from across the globe, from the public and private sectors, and both developing and developed countries. Together these leaders in health and education will champion the need for significantly increased investment in the education and training of health workers in developing countries, and will build international commitment to practical action.

The Joint Learning Initiative (2004) and the World Health Report 2006 brought this shortage of healthcare workers to the worlds attention, and the World Health Assembly called for urgent action. Fifty-seven countries have critical shortages of health workers, and 36 of these are in sub-Saharan Africa. If the crisis is not tackled, these countries will not be able to provide their population with basic healthcare.

HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, and maternal and child mortality which together kill many millions of people annually across the world, will not be significantly reduced unless the crisis in health workers is tackled, said Crisp. There is an urgent need for a massive international effort to train more healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, managers and community health workers.

The Task Force will focus on practical solutions. It will also consider the need and scope for financial and technical support internationally, as well as links between training institutions and universities in the developed and developing world, and innovative use of technology for distance-learning.

Already some countries are beginning to address the problem. Countries such as Ethiopia, India, and Malawi are rapidly increasing the production of health workers through education and training. The Ethiopian government, for example, has an ambitious program to train 30 000 community health workers (Health Extension Workers) by 2009, so that people in villages have access to basic essential health services. The Malawi government, with support from the Global Fund and the UK Department for International Development, is doubling the number of nurses and tripling the number of doctors in training, through a six-year Emergency Human Resources Programme.

The Task Force will look at the impact of such programs, and assess the scope to replicate these and the resources needed to do so.

The Task Force is due to present its initial recommendations to the GHWA Forum in the fall of 2007.

Source: World Health Organization

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