KAMPALA, Uganda – UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is lending its voice to health advocates from around the globe who have issued an urgent call to action to meet severe health workforce shortages in Africa and Asia.
The “Health Workers for All and All for Health Workers” Declaration and Action Plan were approved by delegates at the first Global Forum on Human Resources for Health. The forum was convened by the Global Health Workforce Alliance, of which UNFPA is an active member, and took place in the Ugandan capital 2 to 7 March 2008.
“UNFPA wants to ensure that each and every country in the world has the necessary health workforce that would address the health needs of its people,” said Hedia Belhadj, Deputy Director of UNFPA’s Technical Support Division, who represented UNFPA at the Forum. The workforce shortages in many developing countries are particularly acute in the field of sexual and reproductive health.
“In addition,” added Ms. Belhadj, “an unprecedented number of young people cannot access reproductive health services due to the lack skilled health workers. To be successful, we need to work with health providers from the private sector and reach out to other fields, such as education and labour.”
The alliance estimates that a total of 4.25 million health workers are needed to meet the critical staff shortages, including doctors, midwives and nurses, in 57 critical countries. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has only 3 per cent of the world’s health workforce, but it is home to 11 per cent of the world’s population and carries 24 per cent of the global disease burden.
Many health workers are leaving their home countries in search of better salaries and improved working conditions abroad. In addition, there are also disparities in health workers between the rural and urban areas of many nations.
UNFPA is particularly concerned about how the shortage of health workers impacts maternal mortality, as shortages of health workers with obstetric skills jeopardize both childbearing women and their babies.
However, scaling up the number of personnel is not a complete solution. Maternal health caregivers must also have the skills needed to immediately respond to maternal and newborn birth complications when they occur.
“The current health workforce crisis severely impacts the health of mothers and their babies,” said Vincent Fauveau, a senior maternal health adviser for UNFPA, at the forum. “To reduce maternal mortality, we must make sure that these women receive the specialized care they need during delivery, as well as pre- and postnatal services. We need to think not only of ‘scaling up’ numbers and coverage, but also ‘skilling up’ maternal health personnel, particularly midwives.”
The global action plan approved by forum participants calls for the creation of coherent national and global leadership for tackling the issue, improving coordination and partnership work, increasing health worker education and training, retaining effective and equitably distributed national health workforces and managing migration.
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