Call for G8 to 'remove the bottleneck' of the health workforce crisis to accelerate health systems strengthening and the achievement of global health goals

With one month to go before the 'Group of Eight' nations meet in Hokkaido, Japan, the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA) calls on G8 leaders to commit to new, long-term financing for the development of the health workforce as the cornerstone of functioning health systems.

The world is facing a critical shortage of over 4.3 million health workers, including a lack of at least 1.5 million in Africa. This shortage is unanimously accepted as one of the key constraints to achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals.

Health workers provide essential, life-saving interventions such as care for pregnant women, safe childbirth, vaccinations and treatment of deadly diseases in newborn babies and children, and access to prevention, treatment, care and support services for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Health workers are equally fundamental to our preparedness and response to the global security threats posed by conflict, pandemics and the consequences of global climate change.

There is no doubt that without prompt action, the shortage will worsen, demand for care will continue to grow and health systems will be weakened even further.

Removing the 'bottleneck' of the health workforce crisis is the key to unlocking the acceleration of progress on strengthening health systems and reaching health and development goals.

GHWA applauds recent commitments made by the governments of Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States to training new health workers and improving health worker coverage levels across countries in Africa.

The Alliance now calls on all G8 nations to build on this momentum and ensure they devote the necessary political priority and investment to working with developing nations across the world to close the 4.3 million shortage gap.

Specifically, GHWA calls on G8 leaders at their 2008 Hokkaido Summit to:

  • Commit new, long-term financing for the development of the health workforce. GHWA’s Scaling Up Education and Training Task Force report* estimates that it will cost an additional $2.6 billion a year to educate and train 1.5 million additional health workers, over a 10-year period, in Africa alone. Subsequent employment of trained staff will incur additional costs. Funding should be provided on a long-term and predictable basis to permit payment of recurrent health workforce costs.
  • Consider and implement the recommendations of the GHWA Task Force report on scaling up the education and training of health workers which underlines that in many countries, current rates of training and education of health workers fall far below the levels needed to ensure health and development goals are met. As stated in the report, progress is practical and achievable in countries displaying sustained political commitment from the highest levels on the issue, rigorous workforce planning, sound management systems and a labour market with capacity to employ new workers.
  • Recognize the need for scaling up all cadres of health workers, with the mix of health workers determined by each country’s epidemiological profile and other factors.
  • Work with developing nations to use evidence of effective health workforce strategies for the development of comprehensive, costed national health workforce plans aimed at achieving health goals and commitments.

Calling on the G8 leaders to commit politically and financially to resolving the health workforce crisis, GHWA emphasizes that a competent supported health workforce is fundamental to developing robust and functioning health systems and reaching health and development goals.

GHWA looks forward to a Hokkaido Summit that will help turn the ideal of human security into reality for untold millions of people around the world. This must include commitments and concrete actions required to secure access to skilled, motivated and supported health workers for all.

*See the Report of the Global Health Workforce Alliance Task Force for Scaling Up Education and Training for Health Workers, Scaling Up, Saving Lives (2008), p.73.