In order to meet demand for essential health services, the world needs at least 7.2 million more nurses, midwives and doctors, according to a new report by the Global Health Workforce Alliance and the World Health Organization, presented at the Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health.
The report's executive summary presents three questions it says should serve as guidelines for those in the healthcare industry with decision-making power:
What health workforce is required to ensure effective coverage of an agreed package of healthcare benefits?
What health workforce is required to progressively expand coverage over time?
How does a country produce, deploy and sustain a health workforce that is both fit for purpose and fit to practice in support of universal health coverage?
Appropriately expanding access to services requires four key factors, according to the report's authors:
Availability: a steady supply of healthcare workers with the requisite skills and training to meet the population's needs;
Accessibility: ensuring the population has equal access to this workforce, with regard to travel, opening hours, disability access, and direct and indirect costs;
Acceptability: a healthcare workforce that fosters trust and treats patients with dignity; and
Quality: healthcare workers whose skills, behavior and knowledge meet both professional standards and those of patients.
The report found multiple issues with the healthcare workforce that are common in many countries, including a shortage of healthcare workers, an aging workforce that is difficult to replace, insufficient use of workers such as midwives and nurses, insufficient quality-assessment systems and failure to plan for future needs.
"Acting on human resources for health is now in the hands of governments and all interested stakeholders," the executive summary states. "Political and technical leadership is critical to seize the opportunity to attain, sustain and accelerate progress on universal health coverage by transformative action on human resources for health."
The Frontline Health Workers Coalition (FHWC) commended the report in a statement released Monday."For far too long community health workers have not been counted, supported or celebrated," said FHWC Chair Mary Beth Powers. "The doctor, nurse and midwife deficit as outlined in the report points out the need to supplement the health workforce with new skilled cadres of workers, ideally located closer to the communities in need."