The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a global shortage of health care workers. While some countries have been hit harder than others, developing nations suffer the most severe shortages despite facing the worst health problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2030, an additional 10 million health care workers will be needed, primarily in developing countries. However, the pandemic has magnified this issue, resulting in declining life spans and quality of life for people around the world.
The Importance of Health Care Workers
Health care workers are essential to maintaining not only individual well-being but also the nation’s economy. Without them, countries are vulnerable to childhood undernutrition, transmissible diseases, maternal death and other ailments. Unfortunately, low-income and middle-income countries face a shortage of health care workers, exacerbating an already fragile economy.
International recruitment of medical personnel from poor to rich countries is a major contributor to this shortage, leaving the health care system in developing countries severely understaffed. Some foreign policies were changed to promote an influx of health care workers such as extending visas or work authorization for workers without official qualifications.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive burnout among health care workers, with approximately 50% of the field experiencing symptoms. Burnout leads to emotional exhaustion and poor professional effectiveness, leaving sufferers unable to perform their job or quit the industry entirely. This chronic problem is particularly acute in lower-middle-income countries where health care systems are understaffed and challenging community health issues persist.
Where are Health Care Workers Needed?
The WHO identified 55 countries with critical health workforce shortages based on data from the health workforce support and safeguards list. Among those listed, 67% are from the African region followed by the Western Pacific region with 15%. The list gained eight additional countries since the first publication in 2020. While it may seem like the situation is getting worse, there are initiatives currently underway to bring solutions.
After the WHO’s 75th World Health Assembly, the organization released the Working for Health 2022-2030 Action Plan. This plan is committed to investing in the education, safety, skills and employment of care workers. The proposition represents member states and stakeholders of the WHO including 194 countries.
The organization hopes to aid 60 countries with the most vulnerable health systems by 2030 through the implementation of investment plans and development strategies. The WHO is offering catalytic funding, technical assistance and advisory services to member states struggling to recover their health workforce. Implementing the plan is made a reality through the Working for Health Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) which accepts donations from individuals and member states’ governments.
The shortage of health care workers in developing countries is a problem that crosses multiple borders and affects more than hospitals. According to a WHO report, achieving economic prosperity and overall well-being in lower-income regions necessitates more investments to support health care systems and workers.
– Emma Ferschweiler