New era for philanthropists to focus on health workforce

'Strengthening 21st Century Global Health Systems: Investing Strategically in the Health Care Workforce', Global Summit, New York City, USA - 13 October 2011

Health care workers are the backbone of health systems, yet they are not sufficiently recognized as such and fail to attract donors strategic investment plans. The lack of tangible immediate results and the complexity of health systems simply do not spark investment and action by funders, foundations and institutions. With the ambition to find solutions to reverse this trend, 90 Foundation Presidents, Board Members, Leaders of Public and Private Organizations from across the world gathered in New York on 13 October 2011.

At the day long Summit convened by the New York University College of Nursing Global in partnership with the Global Health Workforce Alliance (the Alliance), participants addressed the scarcity of global investment in Human Resources for Health (HRH) and articulated a range of strategic investments that have the potential to efficiently strengthen the global health care workforce.

"We hope today's discussion will move us forward in understanding the complexities of the HRH shortage that persists despite certain interventions. The speakers will help us understand what is working, but more so to address what is NOT working and why, then we can collectively talk about how we can mainstream foundation contributions to help us achieve the MDGs" said Dr Mubashar Sheikh, Executive Director of the Alliance.

Three panels presented on various aspects of HRH and foundation engagement: (1) foundation strategies: experiences and lessons in HRH, (2) engaging foundations in supporting and advocating for global HRH, and (3) collaborations: sustainability, and evaluation/metrics.

Hereafter are some key summary points that emerged from the discussions:

  • Health and education systems need to be addressed through integrative approaches;
  • Health worker retention is dependent on management and a range of ethical issues;
  • Working together in collaborations requires clear goals. Sustainability in HRH needs to be built into governments, partnerships, and across whole of society;
  • Leadership is central to successful health systems, and HRH management needs professionalization;
  • Progress in HRH is possible, provided it is integrated in a systematic approach, and is supported by political will and perseverance: Malawi and Brazil are good case studies;
  • Investing in HRH is exciting, and has the potential to make a real difference on the ground.

The candid discussions among participants proved the Summit to be a needed and rare initiative. It was mentioned that this type of gathering provides a platform for exchange of knowledge and experience and needs to be replicated at the country or regional level to leverage success from country to country.

A detailed Summit report will provide in-depth analysis of the discussions and action points. It will be made available here shortly.