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New global alliance seeks to address worldwide shortage of doctors, nurses and other health workers

A new global partnership that will strive to address the worldwide shortage of nurses, doctors, midwives and other health workers was launched today. The Global Health Workforce Alliance will draw together and mobilize key stakeholders engaged in global health to help countries improve the way they plan for, educate and employ health workers. Its secretariat will be hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Responding to the call by African Heads of State, the G-8 and the World Health Assembly for urgent solutions to the health workforce crisis, the Alliance will seek practical approaches to urgent problems such as improving working conditions for health professionals and reaching more effective agreements to manage their migration. It will also serve as an international information hub and monitoring body.

The Alliance will start an ambitious programme - the Fast Track Training Initiative - aimed at achieving a rapid increase in the number of qualified health workers in countries experiencing shortages. The initiative will work towards that goal through five strategies:

  • Mobilizing direct financial support for health training institutions, through a model similar to that of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative - a global partnership between donor and developing countries to ensure accelerated progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education;
  • Training partnerships between schools in industrialized and developing countries involving exchanges of faculty and students, with the aim of improving the education of doctors, nurses, midwives and paraprofessional health workers, and training more of them now;
  • Nurturing a new generation of academic leaders in developing countries with the support of experts in the clinical, public health and managerial sciences from around the world;
  • Developing innovative approaches to teaching in developing countries with state-of-the art teaching materials and continuing education through information and communications technology;
  • Assistance with the creation of planning teams in each country facing health worker shortages, drawing on the top leadership of the major schools, whose task will be to develop a comprehensive national health workforce strategy.

Fifty-seven countries, 36 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, have severe shortages of health workers. More than four million additional doctors, nurses, midwives, managers and public health workers are urgently needed to fill this gap. An adequate health workforce is defined by WHO as at least 2.3 well-trained health care providers available per 1000 people and balanced in such a way as to reach 80% of the population or more with skilled birth attendance and childhood immunization.

"The inadequacy of the health workforce in many developing countries is a major obstacle to providing essential life-saving health services to millions of people who lack access now," said Dr Timothy Evans, WHO Assistant Director-General. "Coordinated action to address this crisis at the global level, in regions and within countries must begin now."

The Alliance will seek to spur country action implementing the ten-year health workforce plan set forth in The world health report 2006: Working together for health. The Report calls for national leadership to urgently formulate and implement country strategies for the health workforce, with backing by international assistance.

"The Global Health Workforce Alliance will bring together all the stakeholders needed to move forward on this plan with a view to sharing evidence-based practices countries can follow to expand their workforces and make them more effective," said Dr Lincoln Chen, WHO Special Envoy for Human Resources for Health and Chair of the Alliance's Board.

The initial partners of the Alliance include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Canadian International Development Agency, the European Commission, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, the International Council of Nurses, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the Ministry of Public Health, Thailand, Physicians for Human Rights, the World Bank and WHO. Its executive director, Dr Francis Omaswa, is the former Director General of Health Services of Uganda.

The Government of Norway has donated US$ 3.5 million towards the Alliance's operations during its first year. Seed money for its start-up was donated by the governments of Canada, Ireland and Sweden.

For more information contact:

Judith Mandelbaum-Schmid
Communications Officer
WHO/Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 2967
Mobile phone: +41 79 254 6835
E-mail: schmidj@who.int

Ben Fouquet
Communications Officer
WHO/Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3554
E-mail: fouquetp@who.int

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