Action urged to meet world shortage of health professionals

Governments around the world have been urged by the World Medical Association to address the predicted global shortage of 18 million health professionals by presenting concrete plans for investing in the health workforce.

At its meeting in Santiago, Chile, this week the WMA agreed a proposal for consideration at the High-Level United Nations Assembly meeting in September calling for governments to submit policies and financial commitments to meet the workforce shortage. In addition, the WMA wants to ensure safe and dignified working environments, where staff can thrive without fear of violence or coercion.

The September meeting in New York will be the first one day UN High-Level Meeting on universal health coverage on the theme of ‘Moving together to build a healthier world‘. A preparatory multi-stakeholder hearing will be held next week to find a political consensus to draft a declaration at the September meeting setting out government commitments.

The WMA proposal document says that closing the health workforce gap is essential to achieving universal health coverage.

‘Today, there are 76 countries with less than one physician per thousand people and three billion people without access to a health professional. It is unacceptable that the patient with cancer in Sierra Leone cannot get the care they need because there is no oncologist in the country or that the woman with obstetric fistula has to suffer because there is no gynaecologist’.

WMA Chair Dr. Frank Montgomery said: ‘As our evidence to the High Level Meeting of the United Nations makes clear we strongly support the global move towards universal health coverage. This is high quality health care accessible for everyone at the time of need and without any financial barrier. This will not be achievable at once and everywhere, but nothing less should be the aim.

‘As doctors, we took an oath to make our patients our first priority, and we believe that everyone should have access to high quality services without fear of financial hardship.

‘Primary health care is a tool to further universal health care and the entry point into the health care system should be primary health care within a physician-led system. However, physicians are engaging alongside other health professionals to help make universal health care a reality for patients. Health care should be delivered in a multi-disciplinary health care team’.