Address Healthcare Inequalities, Protect Global Health Workforce – WHO


The World Health Organisation has called on countries to address inequalities in healthcare and to protect health workers, many of whom are still experiencing burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO’s Director-General Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said this in a statement released ahead of its 75th anniversary slated for Friday.

He noted that the world has witnessed extraordinary health gains since the United Nations health agency was established, especially in the treatment of smallpox, near elimination of polio, and reduction in maternal mortality.

Ghebreyesus also said millions of young lives have been saved through childhood immunisation.

“The history of WHO demonstrates what is possible when nations come together for a common purpose,” he added.

Ghebreyesus said there is so much to be proud of, but pointed out that more work is remaining to achieve WHO’s founding vision of a world where all people can attain the highest standard of healthcare.

He said, “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.”

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

Ghebreyesus noted that investments in education, skills and decent jobs must be prioritised to meet the rapidly growing demand for care, as well as 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.

The three-day event, which coincides with ‘World Health Worker Week’ and WHO’s 75th anniversary, was attended by over 3,000 delegates from more than 140 countries.

During the event, 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.

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Ghebreyesus said COVID-19 gave 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. 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 noted that since the onset of the pandemic, more than one in three healthcare workers suffered from anxiety and depression, while around half experienced burnout.

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

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

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

He harped on the need for women’s roles to be addressed, as they accounted for two-thirds of the healthcare 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 added.

The WHO chief further called on all countries to work together, as the job should not be left to the ministries of health alone,” adding, “We all have a role to play.”

Ghebreyesus noted that there was no better way to honour the legacy of health and care workers who lost their lives to COVID-19 or faced unprecedented challenges than to protect and invest in them together.



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