Health workforce fundamental to achieving MDGs

Global Health Workforce Alliance urges immediate action and financing for health workforce to strengthen health systems and unlock progress on maternal, child health; HIV, TB, malaria

Tuesday 23 September, Geneva - As global leaders prepare to meet in New York to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Global Health Workforce Alliance urges the global community to act with speed and conviction to resolve health worker shortages that are hampering progress towards reaching the MDGs.

The shortage of health workers is widely recognized a fundamental constraint to the achievement of the MDGs.

"A mother still dies in pregnancy or childbirth every minute. One child under the age of 5 still dies every 3 seconds. Nearly 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV every day. All these issues are compounded by critical shortages of health workers within weak health systems," said Executive Director of the Global Health Workforce Alliance, Dr Mubashar Sheikh.

More than 4 million health workers are needed to bridge the gap, with 1.5 million needed in Africa alone.

The Alliance welcomes the growing momentum to resolve the health workforce crisis -- recent announcements and initiatives from the G8, the United States, United Kingdom and Japan are showing high-level leadership on turning commitment into action.

But significant challenges remain. Without greater quantity and quality of health workers, health systems will be weakened further and progress on the MDGs, and in health generally, will not be possible.

The Alliance urges leaders gathered in New York to transform recognition of the need to address the health workforce crisis into immediate action.

This means within the next 2-3 years funding needs to scale up dramatically and countries need to have solid health workforce plans in place, have commitments for full funding and be implementing these plans.

The financial need is substantial - In Africa alone it is estimated 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. Subsequent employment and retention of trained staff will incur additional costs.[1]

International health initiatives must ensure that the health workforce is addressed comprehensively through their programmes. Initiatives such as the International Health Partnership (IHP), the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) must include and ensure that countries have developed quality, costed plans for their health workforce. Donors must then support these plans. Domestic spending on health workforce must also be enhanced significantly.

"The global community must act immediately. We cannot afford to wait any longer," said Dr Sheikh. "By ensuring sustained action to put health workers in their rightful place as the heart of health systems - more mothers will survive in childbirth, more people will have access to life-saving and prolonging treatment and more unnecessary suffering and death will be prevented," he said.

The global community should not allow these important meetings in New York to be a missed opportunity. Solid leadership, speed and conviction in action is needed and expected.

[1]Global Health Workforce Alliance. 'Scaling Up Saving Lives': Report of the Task Force for scaling up education and training of health workers. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2008.