Noncommunicable diseases and the health workforce

Doctor attending patient in Malawi
© VSO/S.Rawles

This week the WHO launched its Global status report on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) which highlights chronic conditions such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and lung diseases as the leading cause of death. According to the report findings, NCDs cost the lives of 36.1 million people in 2008, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Many of these could be saved if patients had access to appropriate, affordable, timely and high-quality health care services. To reach this goal of universal access to chronic health care, many more health care workers equipped with wide range of skills will be needed.

In the lead up to the ministerial conference held in Moscow, Russia from 28 to 29 April, WHO convened on 27 April a wide range of stakeholders to identified priority areas to prevent and control NCDs. Alliance Executive Director Dr Mubashar Sheikh participated in the event and spoke at a session dedicated to the linkages between NCDs and the health workforce. "Effectively addressing the challenges posed by chronic diseases is dependent on a prepared, motivated, supported and well-functioning health workforce, operating in a supportive and functional health system" he said. "This requires comprehensive solutions developed together by involving all key stakeholders, state and non-state actors."

The Alliance has contributed to the discussions by co-authoring a discussion paper (available for download here). This paper outlines a range of priority considerations to ensure health workers are adequately equipped to care for patients with chronic illnesses. These points include the need for governments to assess their health workforce needs; embed health workforce into national health policies and plans; maintain a diverse workforce with emphasis on community care; invest in pre and in-service training as well as in information technology, and ensure strong leadership at all levels.

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