Prioritizing the health and care workforce shortage

Prioritizing the health and care workforce shortage: protect, invest, together

Reda SadkiGlobal health

The severe global shortage of health and care workers poses a dangerous threat to health systems, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The authors of the article “Prioritising the health and care workforce shortage: protect, invest, together”, including six health ministers and the WHO Director-General, assert that this workforce crisis requires urgent action and propose “protect, invest, together” to tackle it.

Deep protection of the existing workforce, they assert, is needed through improved working conditions, fair compensation, upholding rights, addressing discrimination and violence, closing gender inequities, and implementing the WHO Global Health and Care Worker Compact to ensure dignified working environments. All countries must prioritize retaining workers to build resilient health systems.

Significantly increased and strategic long-term investments are imperative in both training new health workers through educational channels and sustaining their employment. Countries should designate workforce development, especially at the primary care level, as crucial human capital investments impacting population health outcomes. Intersectoral financing is key, bringing together domestic funds, grants, concessional sources, and private sector partners into coordinated national plans. Global solidarity is required to resource-constrained LMIC health workforces.

Intersectoral collaboration between ministries of health, finance, economic development, education and employment can develop integrated health workforce strategies. South-South partnerships offer pathways for health worker training and mobility to address regional shortages. Small island nations confront severe but overlooked workforce obstacles requiring specially tailored policy approaches.

The severe projected health workforce shortfall urgently necessitates that actors globally protect existing health workers, strategically invest in growing national workforces, and unite intersectorally behind robust health employment systems, especially in lower resourced contexts. As the authors emphasize, “there can be no health, health systems, or emergency response without the health and care workforce.”

What about the role of education?

This article does not provide much direct discussion of health education systems related to the global health workforce shortage. However, it makes the following relevant points:

  1. Chronic underinvestment in the health and care workforce, including in education and training, has contributed to long-standing shortages.
  2. There is a need for strategic investments in health and care worker education and lifelong learning, with a focus on primary health care, to help address shortages.
  3. Investments in standalone health infrastructure will have little effect unless matched by investments in developing the health workforce through education and training.
  4. Increasing, smarter and sustained long-term financing is crucial for health and care worker education and employment.
  5. Regional and subregional collaboration should be explored to bring together resources and capacities for health workforce education and training.
  6. Intersectoral collaboration between health, education, finance and other sectors is important for developing policies and making investments in health workforce education.

Read more to understand what this means for health education: Protect, invest, together: strengthening health workforce through new learning models

Reference: Agyeman-Manu et al. Prioritising the health and care workforce shortage: protect, invest, together. The Lancet Global Health (2023).

Illustration: The Geneva Learning Foundation Collection © 2024