The World Health Organization (WHO) today released its 2023 updated list of support and protection of health workers, identifying 55 countries that are vulnerable to the availability of health workers needed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal target of universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030.
The impact of COVID-19 and the widespread disruption to health services has resulted in an accelerated recruitment of international health workers. For countries that have lost their health workforce due to international migration, this can have a negative impact on health systems and hinder their progress towards achieving UHC and health coverage.
Of the 55 countries, 37 are in the WHO Africa region, eight in the West Pacific region, six in the Eastern Mediterranean region, three in the Southeast Asia region and one in the Americas. Eight countries have just been added to the WHO health workforce protection and support 2023 list since its original publication in 2020.
“Health workers are the backbone of any health system, but 55 countries with some of the world’s most fragile health systems do not have enough and many have lost their health workers due to international migration,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “WHO is working with these countries to support them in strengthening their health workforce, and we ask all countries to respect the provisions in the WHO health workforce protection and support list.” The checklist should be used to inform advocacy, policy dialogue at all levels and financing efforts to support the education and employment of health workers in these countries.
Countries included in the 2023 WHO health worker support and protection list have a UHC service coverage index below 55 and a health workforce density below the global average: 49 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. These countries need priority support for health workforce development and health system strengthening, together with additional protections that limit active international recruitment.
The WHO health worker protection and support list 2023 does not prohibit international recruitment, but recommends that government-to-government health worker migration agreements:
- informed by analysis of the health labor market and implementation of measures to ensure an adequate supply of health workers in source countries;
- involve the Ministry of Health in negotiating and implementing the agreement; And
- determine the health system benefits of the arrangement for source and destination countries.
WHO also recommends that this protection be extended to all low- and middle-income countries.
Adoption of the WHO global code of practice on the recruitment of international health workers (WHO Global Code) can ensure that the international movement of health workers is managed ethically, supports the rights and well-being of migrant health workers and sustains the goals of health service delivery.
The 2023 update is informed by the report of the WHO Expert Advisory Group on the Relevance and Effectiveness of the WHO Global Code. WHO will update the list every three years, with the next update scheduled for publication in 2026.
This issue will be discussed at the forthcoming Fifth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, which will examine the necessary policy solutions, investments, and multisectoral partnerships to address health and care workforce challenges to advancing health systems towards achieving UHC and health. security. The results of the Forum will inform the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on UHC in September 2023.