The World Health Organization says as many as 55 countries are grappling with acute shortages of health workers. This is mostly because the workers continue to seek better wage opportunities in wealthier countries.
These health workers look for higher-paying opportunities in countries where efforts to recruit them have stepped up amid the pandemic.
According to WHO, African countries are most affected by this phenomenon. Over 37 countries on the continent are facing shortages of health workers.
“Health workers shortage have threatened their chances of achieving universal health care by 2030 – a key Sustainable Development Goals pledge.’’
The actions of wealthy countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development come under scrutiny in the WHO alert, among other regions.
“Within Africa, it’s a very vibrant economy that is creating new opportunities,” Dr Jim Campbell, the Director responsible for health worker policy at WHO, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Gulf States have traditionally been reliant on international personnel and then some of the OECD high-income countries have really accelerated their recruitment and employment to respond to the pandemic and respond to the loss of lives, the infections, the absences of workers during the pandemic”.
To help countries protect their vulnerable healthcare systems, WHO has issued an updated health workforce support and safeguards list. The list highlights nations with low numbers of qualified healthcare staff.
“These countries require priority support for health workforce development and health system strengthening, along with additional safeguards that limit active international recruitment,” the WHO insisted.
Supporting the call for universal healthcare for all countries in line with the SDGs, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, called on all countries to respect the provisions in the WHO health workforce support and safeguards list.
“Health workers are the backbone of every health system, and yet 55 countries with some of the world’s most fragile health systems, do not have enough and many are losing their health workers to international migration,” he added.
Although many countries do respect existing WHO guidelines on the recruitment of health care workers, the principle is not accepted wholesale, WHO warned.
“What we are seeing is that the majority of countries are respecting those provisions by not actively recruiting from these (vulnerable) countries,” Campbell said.
“But there is also a private recruitment market that does exist and we’re looking to them to also reach some of the global standards that are anticipated in terms of their practice and behaviour.”
Mechanisms also exist for governments or other individuals to notify WHO if they are “worried” about the behaviour of recruiters.
The WHO health workforce support and safeguard list do not prohibit international recruitment. However, it recommends that governments involved in such programmes be informed about the impact on the health system. This is especially for countries where they source qualified health professionals.
cc: Punch Ng