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Working for health workers

The 2nd Global Forum on Human Resources for Health begins tomorrow in Bangkok. Health workers will be at the centre of the debate, and in particular the crucial role they play in providing health care and, by extension, delivering progress towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals. This focus on health workers is not a recent phenomenon however – since the WHO’s 2006 World Health Report the importance of health workers has been highlighted in numerous international health meetings and processes: the 1st Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in 2008 endorsed the Kampala Declaration and Agenda for Global Action, for example, while specific commitments were also made at the G8 meetings in 2008 (in Japan) and 2009 (in Italy) and in the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, launched at the UN MDG Summit in September 2010.

Despite these initiatives, the health workforce in many countries remains in a situation of crisis. Across the developing world millions of people continue to struggle to access health care; the lack of human resources, along with other factors like financial and geographic barriers, is a major reason why. The problem is well summarised in Save the Children’s report for the campaign No Child Born to Die, launched today:

“Health workers are the backbone of healthcare. Without doctors, midwives, nurses and community health workers, there is no one to diagnose illnesses, dispense treatment, assist at births or immunize children. All too often, the major barrier to children receiving the care they need is not a lack of know-how or technology. Rather, children are missing out on life-saving healthcare because the staff needed to do the job are missing. Globally, the best estimate is that another 3.5 million health workers need to be recruited, trained and deployed by 2015 in order to achieve the MDGs of a two-thirds reduction in child mortality, and a three-quarters reduction in maternal mortality. The challenge does not stop there. Millions of existing health workers need to be better trained and managed, deployed in the right places, and given the incentives and equipment they need to do their job effectively”.

The Bangkok Forum represents a crucial opportunity to build on recent momentum and increasing media interest in this critical global public health issue (see for example the recent series on health workers in The Guardian). Faster progress must be delivered in strengthening the health workforce in countries where the needs are greatest – and the time to act is now.

I’ll be writing further updates during and after the Forum – watch this space.

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