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WHO Calls For Action To Protect, Expand Global Health Workforce

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on countries to address inequities in care and protect the workers, many of whom are burnt out from the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO made the call in a statement on Monday ahead of its 75th anniversary on Friday.

The world has witnessed extraordinary health gains since the UN agency was established, including smallpox eradication, the near elimination of polio, and declines in maternal mortality.

Millions of young lives have also been saved through childhood immunisation.

“The history of WHO demonstrates what is possible when nations come together for a common purpose,” Director-General Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Although there is much to be proud of, Ghebreyesus pointed to the work that remained to achieve WHO’s founding vision of a world where all people attained the highest standard of health.

“We continue to face vast inequities in access to health services, major gaps in the world’s defences against health emergencies, and threats from health-harming products and the climate crisis,” he said.

To meet these challenges, WHO urged governments to take urgent action to protect, support and expand the health workforce.

Investments in education, skills and decent jobs must be prioritised to meet the rapidly growing demand for care and avert a projected shortage of 10 million health workers by 2030, mainly in developing countries.

WHO recently announced a global education programme on basic emergency care targeting 25 per cent of nurses and midwives from 25 low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2025.

Similarly, Ghebreyesus delivered opening remarks at the 5th Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Geneva.

Over 3,000 delegates from more than 140 countries are attending the three-day event, which coincides with World Health Worker Week and WHO’s 75th anniversary.

He again stressed that the vision of attaining the highest possible level of health for all could only be achieved with an adequate and well-supported health workforce.

Ghebreyesus said COVID-19 had given the world a new appreciation for the incredible value of health workers, who “worked day in and day out to protect us.

“They, and the health systems they work in, are badly over-stretched.

“Millions of health and care workers were infected during the pandemic, he said. Thousands died, and many are simply exhausted from over-work.

“Furthermore, severe disruptions to health systems during the global crisis have led to excess mortality and avoidable deaths in many countries, reversing previous health gains.

“The single largest cause of disrupted health services during the pandemic was the shortage of health workers. And the single largest barrier to delivering vaccines and other life-saving tools to combat COVID-19 was the shortage of health workers.”

Ghebreyesus  reported that since the onset of the pandemic, more than one in three health and care workers had suffered from anxiety and depression, and around half had experienced burnout.

“Workers are giving voice to their struggle, strikes and industrial action are at record levels: dissatisfaction with working conditions is reported in more than 160 countries,” he said.

Ghebreyesus underscored the need to protect health workers, including through upholding their labour rights.

He encouraged countries to invest in decent working conditions for the sector, fair pay, training and leadership.

He asked that the role of women must be addressed as they accounted for two-thirds of the health and care workforce.

“Too few women are in senior positions in the health sector, and there is a 24 per cent gender pay gap. The glass ceiling must be smashed,” he said.

The WHO chief called for all countries to work together, as the job should not just fall to Ministries of Health alone.

“We all have a role to play,” Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO chief noted that there was no better way to honour the legacy of health and care workers who had lost their lives to COVID-19, or had faced unprecedented challenges, than to protect, invest together. (NAN)


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