Putting People First

“If we’re going to create resilient health systems, we have to move away from just focusing on commodities, abstract interventions. We have to remember that health is about people. It’s about protecting our populations and creating a workforce that serves those populations. So let’s think about how we build a people-centered health system.”
-Richard Horton, Director, The Lancet

The quote above is from a Global Health Workforce Alliance video which uses key stakeholders such as Richard Horton and WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan to make the case for a global strategy on human resources for health – the current Health Workforce 2030 campaign that you may have heard about.

So why the 2030 date? Well, based on current trends in low- and middle-income countries, it’s estimated that by the year 2030 there will be a major shortage of health workers due to country capacity to produce and retain qualified workers. At that point, the workforce (supply of health professionals) will not be able to match the need (provision of essential services).

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has clearly demonstrated the importance of looking at a health system through the lens of people. Affected countries have lost almost 500 health workers to date (including my aunt) and these are countries that were already suffering from health worker shortages and brain drain. It’s clear that a focus on human resources is critical for these countries and others to strengthen their health systems and become resilient. Having the best supplies and medicines, cutting-edge innovations and interventions, and state-of-the-art facilities without a strong health workforce is not going to advance positive health outcomes.

The Health Workforce 2030 summary brochure is available here on the WHO’s website and the full strategy will be completed by May 2016 for consideration at the 69th World Health Assembly.

It will be interesting to see how this “people focus” plays out and influences the post-2015 development agenda.

If you’d like to learn more about the global workforce crisis in more general terms, check out this TED Talk from human resources expert Rainer Strack. It’s not about health workers or low- and middle-income countries, but he tells a good story.

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