Written by Judith Riess, MTM editor-in-chief
In May of 2019, the 72nd World Health Assembly was held in Geneva, Switzerland, by the World Health Organization (WHO). The assembly was made up of delegates from member states and partner organizations and was represented by 4,000 delegates. A key theme of the assembly was “Universal Health Coverage: leave no one behind.”
In addressing universal coverage, the assembly looked at the projected worldwide shortage of caregivers, estimated to be 18 million by 2030. Having a well-educated and well-trained healthcare workforce is crucial to achieving and sustaining universal healthcare. To attain and maintain this, it will require political leaders, organizations, associations and governments to allocate the public resources necessary to educate and train the workforce of tomorrow. Investing in healthcare worker jobs has to be looked at universally and will require the commitment of all specialties, associations, governments and education systems if we are to achieve a universal healthcare system.
Today, in many nations there are not enough doctors, nurses or other providers to care for the young, elderly and rural populations. With the projected rise in populations and an increasing geriatric population, this shortage will become more acute, especially in lower income countries.
Globally, 70 percent of healthcare workers are women, and many are in unpaid positions. To achieve universal coverage, women and youth need to be recruited to the workforce, but this will require addressing gender differences as well as discrimination and bullying, which is most often faced by women and younger workers. Laws against harassment need to be enacted in all nations as it seems to be a worldwide problem.
Health and the social sectors are the largest employers of young people. Laws, policies and programs that make a difference must become the priority for all nations, and organizations must commit to working together and becoming team players if we are to begin to ‘leave no one behind’.
In determining priorities, the assembly looked at what the health force of the future would need to address. Primary care, new challenges and analysis of global disease were at the forefront, but a focus on the urban poor will also be needed. A recent example in the US News brought this to light when alarming numbers of police officers in San Francisco became ill when working with the homeless.
Health workforce planning is crucial and the issue of the cost of educating, training and sustaining a competent workforce will require political leadership, an honest assessment and a world enhancement of health systems.
Key factors in addressing the 18-million worker shortfall from the working meeting are:
- Health professional associations will join forces to catalyze interprofessional collaboration by connecting their members, building capacity for collaboration, and working collectively rather than in parallel to mobilize a multisectoral strategy for a sustainable workforce, greater job satisfaction and better outcomes.
- Work towards a sustainable health workforce with health, labour, education, and finance ministries to drive data, policy dialogue, decision-making and action to maximize the potential of the available workforce and invest in education, skills, and jobs that deliver an efficient health impact.
- Develop and implement national health workforce strategies for decent and quality jobs for all health workers, including their safety, and remuneration, as well as an elimination of all types of discrimination – especially through gender-transformative change, social protection, social dialogue, and positive practice environments.
- Apply and scale identified solutions and best practices, while focusing on quality, primary healthcare, community engagement, self-care, and people-centered approaches.
- Address workforce challenges by tapping into the potential of youth in the health and social workforce through their engagement in identifying and implementing strategies.
- Utilize technologies to support health workers and build their competencies, as well as strengthen health promotion and health outcomes.