Media centre

International action needed to increase health workforce

A new international Task Force was launched and met for the first time today to tackle the global shortage of health workers. With a shortfall of 4.3 million health workers worldwide, including more than 1 million in Africa alone, there is an urgent need to increase the number of doctors, nurses, health managers and other health care workers needed to face immediate health crises.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), welcomed the new Task Force: "The simple fact is that the world needs many more health workers. The world faces global as well as local threats to health. Infectious diseases have staged a dramatic comeback, and chronic diseases are on the rise.We cannot improve people's health without staff to deliver health care.

The new global Task Force, chaired by Lord Nigel Crisp, former Chief Executive of the National Health Service in England, and Bience Gawanas, the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, has been set up under the auspices of the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA). The Task Force includes two African Ministers of Health – Dr Stephen Mallinga of Uganda and Marjorie Ngaunje of Malawi - and senior health policy makers from across the globe, from the public and private sectors, and both developing and developed countries.

Together these leaders in health and education will champion the need for significantly increased investment in the education and training of health workers in developing countries, and will build international commitment to practical action.

The Joint Learning Initiative (2004) and the World Health Report 2006 brought this shortage of health workers to the world’s attention, and the World Health Assembly called for urgent action. Fifty-seven countries have critical shortages of health workers, and 36 of these are in sub-Saharan Africa. If the crisis is not tackled, these countries will not be able to provide their population with basic health care.

“HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, and maternal and child mortality – which together kill many millions of people annually across the world, will not be significantly reduced unless the crisis in health workers is tackled,” said Lord Crisp. “There is an urgent need for a massive international effort to train more health care workers, including doctors, nurses, managers and community health workers.”

The Task Force will focus on practical solutions. It will also consider the need and scope for financial and technical support internationally, as well as links between training institutions and universities in the developed and developing world, and innovative use of technology for distance-learning.

Already some countries are beginning to address the problem. Countries such as Ethiopia (a GHWA ‘pathfinder’ country), India and Malawi are rapidly increasing the production of health workers through education and training. The Ethiopian government, for example, has an ambitious programme to train 30 000 community health workers (Health Extension Workers) by 2009, so that people in villages have access to basic essential health services. The Malawi government, with support from the Global Fund and the UK Department for International Development, is doubling the number of nurses and tripling the number of doctors in training, through a six-year Emergency Human Resources Programme.

The Task Force will look at the impact of such programmes, and assess the scope to replicate these and the resources needed to do so.

GHWA Executive Director Dr Francis Omaswa welcomed the Task Force. "GHWA has identified a need for some type of ‘fast-track’ training initiative to address the health worker shortage. This new GHWA Task Force will make practical recommendations for action. The Task Force will also work closely with other programmes which address issues such as health worker migration, health financing, and access to HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and care."

The Task Force is due to present its initial recommendations to the GHWA Forum in Autumn 2007.

Notes to editors:
  • The Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA) was set up in May 2006, with a secretariat provided by WHO. It is a partnership of a wide variety of stakeholders (UN agencies, NGOs, academia, professional associations, donors and IGOs) with the common goal of working together to find solutions to the health workforce crisis.
  • GHWA already has grants from countries such as Canada, France, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom, the latter having recently committed £1 million ($1.9 million) funding over two years.
  • GHWA is giving grants to eight pathfinder countries, in Africa, Asia and the Americas, which are tackling the health workforce crisis in practical ways, in-country, and are helping set up Country Action Teams to identify country-based solutions.
  • The Task Force is supported with initial grants from GHWA, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and CIDA.
  • Task Force members:
    • Lord Nigel Crisp (co-chair)
    • Bience Gawanas (co-chair; African Union Commission)
    • Honorable Stephen Mallinga (Health Minister Uganda)
    • Honorable Marjorie Ngaunje (Health Minister Malawi)
    • Professor Srinath Reddy (Director, Public Health Foundation of India)
    • Peter Loescher (President Global Human Health Merck & Co) / Jeff Sturchio (Vice President, External Affairs Merck & Co)
    • Dr Joy Phumaphi (Vice President and Head, Human Development Network) / Alexander Prekker (Lead Economist, Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank)
    • Judith Oulton (Chief Executive Officer, International Council of Nurses)
    • Kathy Cahill (Gates Foundation)
    • Dr Francisco Campos (Director of Work and Education in Health, Ministry of Health, Brazil)
    • Sarita Bhatla (CIDA, DG Governance and Social Development Directorate) / Jeea Saraswati, (CIDA, Health Specialist Africa Branch)
For more information, please contact:

P. Ben Fouquet
Communications officer
GHWA
WHO, Geneva
Tel: +41 22 791 3554
Mobile: +41 79 467 1370
Fax: +41 22 791 4747
E-mail: fouquetp@who.int

Imogen Sharp
Task Force Director
Mobile: +44 7884 473074
E-mail: imogen.sharp@dh.gsi.gov.uk

Share