JM: photo emailed to you. Photo is of Frances Day-Stirk, president of the International Confederation of Midwives, and David Benton, CEO of the International Council of Nurses. Photo courtesy of Marilyn DeLuca, consultant, Global Health - Health Systems  and adjunct associate professor, College of Nursing, New York University.

Frances Day-Stirk, president, International Confederation of Midwives, and David Benton, CEO of International Council of Nurses. Photo courtesy of Marilyn DeLuca.

By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

While it might seem—based on what we see in our own country—that there is no shortage of health care workers, there is indeed a global shortage and it’s only going to get worse. We reported on the global health workforce last year; new reports are revealing just how much worse things may get. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2035 there will be a shortage of 12.9 million health care workers; currently, there is a shortage of 7.2 million.*

The shortage is being exacerbated by a confluence of occurrences:

  • the aging population is living longer and with more illness
  • noncommunicable chronic illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes are increasing worldwide
  • many undeveloped countries lack educational facilities for training new professionals
  • experienced health care workers migrate to developed countries for better working conditions and pay

Discussions focused on how nations individually and together can develop and strengthen the workforce to meet Millenium Development Goals and attain the goal of universal health coverage. The result was the Recife Declaration, a call to action detailing what needed to be done to address the problem, asking nations and organizations to commit to a goal of universal health coverage for all, and committing resources to develop the workforce to provide it.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) and the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) were among those making a commitment to work towards universal health coverage and to “support policies that advance equity and the provision of high quality care and services that are available, accessible, and acceptable.”

A glaring irony at WHO. I can’t help wondering, though, with nurses and midwives the key providers in many underdeveloped countries—and often the only educated providers of any health care—why the WHO has yet to fill the nursing and midwifery leadership position at headquarters. (See my editorial from 2011.) The Office of Nursing and Midwifery, which coordinated the work of the Global Advisory Group on Nursing and Midwifery, has been without a director since 2009. This is the group that develops and supports nursing and midwifery training programs in WHO member countries. Seems to me it would be a good idea to fill this position if the WHO is serious about universal health care.

* The figures cited above come from a new report, A Universal Truth: No Health Without a Workforce, released at last month’s Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health conference in Recife, Brazil. Organized by the Global Health Workforce Alliance in conjunction with the WHO, the Brazilian government, and the Pan American Health Organization, the meeting drew representatives from 85 countries—over 1,300 participants in total—to address the workforce shortage.

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