The Global Health Workforce is Facing a Severe Shortage!

The Fifth Forum on Human Resources for Health (HRH) recently delivered a concerning message: the world will experience a shortage of over 10 million health care workers within the next seven years. This shortage is expected to be most severe in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, which will account for three-quarters of the gap. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on health care workers, leaving them overworked, underpaid, and feeling undervalued. Sexist policies are also limiting opportunities for female health care workers to take on leadership roles. As a result, health care workers are protesting and even migrating in search of better opportunities.

The HRH crisis is not happening in isolation, but is a symptom of broader economic, political, and environmental crises. Inflation, the cost of living, and political instability are reducing the availability of resources to invest in public health, primary care, and the health care workforce. Additionally, the rise of authoritarianism, populism, nationalism, and crony capitalism are driving worker exploitation and even racism. High-income countries are also causing issues by recruiting medical graduates from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) without respecting non-binding ethical codes. Furthermore, the climate emergency is causing a shift in the disease burden, disproportionately impacting LMIC health systems.

Despite these difficulties, the forum offered some hope. There is now a greater understanding of these problems and their consequences, and a wealth of knowledge and wisdom about what works and what doesn’t in relation to these challenges. The World Health Organization (WHO) is committed to taking a leadership role in a coordinated, collaborative, and multi-stakeholder effort to address this issue. Dr. Tedros has established a multi-sectoral advisory group of experts to provide evidence for action in support of workforce priorities.

As the largest health policy and systems society globally, Health Systems Global (HSG) has a crucial role to play in supporting WHO and other partners in the fight for caring for those who care for us. The society can leverage academic resources and expertise to synthesize best practices and evidence on HCWF-related policies. Additionally, it may consider expanding the Community Health Workers thematic working group to encompass all health and care workers while focusing on community health systems. Finally, it must collaborate with other organizations to advocate for better investment and protection for the health and care workforce. After all, health policies rely on people, communities, and societies. HSG can be one of many societies advocating together for better investment and protection for the health and care workforce.

By Dr. Goran Zangana, Board Member, Health Systems Global
and Lead for International Medical Graduates, NHS Lothian (Scotland)