Strengthening the global health workforce

Strengthening the global health workforce

Photo Credit: UNMEER/Martine Perret (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The World Health Organization estimates that the current shortage of global health care workers is 7.2 million. Without intervention, this number will soar to 18 million by 2030. Rachel Deussom, an FHI 360 expert on the health workforce and Senior Technical Officer, Human Resources for Health, Health Systems Strengthening, hosted a conversation with other FHI 360 colleagues to examine the shortage, its underlying causes and potential solutions.

She opened the conversation with a personal experience she had while visiting an FHI 360 health project in rural Sierra Leone. When health workers saw that she was pregnant, several said they hoped that her child would study hard, become a doctor and return to Sierra Leone to save lives. Clearly, those on the front lines recognize the struggle to develop a well-trained, well-distributed health workforce.

How do we respond to this growing crisis? Dr. Nadra Franklin, Director of Social and Economic Development, and Dr. Otto Chabikuli, Director of Global Health, Population and Nutrition, discussed the need for an integrated approach to solutions that will achieve health for all. One component of this approach is to address the root causes of the worker shortage, pinpointing where the jobs are now, where the jobs will be in the future, and the education and skills that are supplied by training institutes. Identifying and understanding the gaps between the education and training health workers currently receive and the skills that are in demand will help address this shortage.

#HealthWorkersCount because, w/o them, millions around the world will never have access to proper care. Click To Tweet

Another component is examining all jobs along the workforce “value chain” — not just doctors and nurses providing direct services, but all workers performing jobs within a health care system. It is also important to acknowledge how technology has changed the way people work and the nature of the skills that employers seek. In addition, we must address local market forces — the distribution of health workers among rural and urban areas and among public and private sectors. Policymakers may need to step in and equalize the incentives in health care so that workers are attracted to underserved areas. Through an integrated approach, we can ensure that we are addressing the health worker shortage of today and planning for the demands of tomorrow.

Groups like the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, of which FHI 360 is a member, have taken advocacy roles with U.S. policymakers to encourage prioritization of and investment in the global health workforce. Placing a high value on trained health workers will not only address the immediate needs of the communities they serve, but it will also contribute to global health security. World Health Workers Week (#WHWWeek) is a prime opportunity to intensify our support of health workers and the need for more integrated solutions to address the crisis of the health worker shortage. We must show that health workers count (#HealthWorkersCount) because, without them, millions of children and families around the world will never have access to proper health care.

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