WHO is organizing the Fifth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health from 3 to 5 April 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Forum, the largest gathering of the health workforce professionals, health policymakers and multisectoral partners is focusing on the theme of Protecting, safeguarding, and investing in the health and care workforce.
As the halfway point to the Sustainable Development Goals approaches, and three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, population health outcomes and life expectancy are in reverse.
Health systems are dependent on health worker availability, accessibility and quality. Yet chronic shortages of health workers, underinvestment in their education and training, as well as low salaries and mismatch between education and employment strategies are leading to major challenges. The pandemic placed a heavy toll: the latest figures show that an estimated 50% of health and care workers, who already felt overworked and undervalued before COVID-19, experienced burnout from the huge additional burdens placed upon them.
“The world must take urgent action to protect and invest in health workers in all countries. Health workers need decent pay and working conditions,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “WHO calls for all countries to increase investment in health workforce education and jobs to meet their population needs and health system demands. This requires political leadership across all sectors, not just health”.
Marking more than five years since the adoption of the Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030, the Forum will share evidence and experiences on workforce development, as well as opportunities for a post COVID-19 era. It will examine the required policy solutions, investments, and multi-sectoral partnerships to address health and care workforce challenges and advance the implementation of the Working for Health 2022-2030 Action Plan.
WHO is recommending that all countries increase graduation of health personnel to reach 8-12% of the active workforce per annum. For instance, a country with a total of 5000 physicians would need to graduate between 400-600 physicians per annum to maintain and improve capacity in relation to population needs and health system demand.
“National responses to COVID-19 showed that the health and care workforce is capable of hugely positive change”, said Jim Campbell, Director of the Health Workforce Department. “If we want equity and universal health coverage, if we want global health security, we must protect health workers. We must invest in them, and we must take action together”.
The Forum will dedicate particular attention to health workforce investment and financing in all countries: to secure the resources for the scale-up of education and jobs. It will feature work led by the WHO African Regional Office together with Member States and regional partners in the development of the African Health Workforce Investment Charter, which aims to align and stimulate investments to halve inequities in access to health workers; especially in those African countries identified as having the greatest shortages.
The Forum is being attended by over 2000 delegates with most joining online and close to 200 participating in person. It provides a pivotal moment to focus on the topic that lies at the heart of global health agenda, taking place during the World Health Worker Week campaign, and just ahead of World Health Day, which this year marks WHO’s 75th birthday on 7 April 2023.
The outcomes of the Forum will inform the United Nations General Assembly’s High-Level Meetings on Universal Health Coverage and Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response scheduled in September 2023.
Note to the editor
At the Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly in May 2022, Member States encouraged utilization of the Global health and care worker compact that consolidates relevant international legal instruments to provide succinct guidance on how to protect health and care workers, to safeguard their rights, and to promote and ensure decent work, free from racial and all other forms of discrimination and a safe and enabling practice environment. The WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel is a key instrument in this area. The Code, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2010, establishes and promotes voluntary practices for the ethical international recruitment of health personnel. It requires countries to implement effective health workforce planning, education, training and retention strategies to sustain a health workforce that is appropriate for the specific conditions of each country. In March 2023, WHO released the WHO health workforce support and safeguards list (2023).