How are the health workers?
Health workers are “all people engaged in actions whose primary intent is to enhance health” (WHO – World Health Report 2006). This includes physicians, nurses and midwives, but also laboratory technicians, public health professionals, community health workers, pharmacists, and all other support workers whose main function relates to delivering preventive, promotive or curative health services.
Health workers typically operate in collaboration with the wider social service workforce, who is responsible to ensure the welfare and protection of socially or economically disadvantaged individuals and families; a closer integration of the health and social service workforce can also improve long-term care for ageing populations.
Why are health workers important?
Health workers are the core of health systems: without health workers there is no health care. National and global efforts to achieve the health targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations in 2000 are thwarted in many countries by shortages of health staff, their often inequitable distribution, and gaps in their capacity, motivation and performance. Similarly, the ambitious targets under consideration by the United Nations as part of the Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the MDGs (which include for example eliminating preventable maternal and child deaths), will only be achieved if dramatic improvements are made to strengthen the health workforce.
Isn’t this a problem just for the poorest countries?
Low- and middle-income countries face the most severe challenges in ensuring a sufficient, fit- for-purpose and fit-to-practice health workforce. A recent analysis conducted by the Global Health Workforce Alliance and WHO estimated a gap of 7.2 million professional health workers in 2012, set to rise to 12.9 million over the next decades. The Ebola epidemic in West and Central Africa demonstrates how weak health systems with insufficient health workers are unable to respond to emerging needs. But countries at all levels of socio-economic development face the challenge of how to sustain the human capital required to guarantee universal access and universal health coverage. High-income countries in particular are often over-reliant on migrant health workers from developing countries, and have to plan for the growing needs of their ageing populations.