Here is a subject dear to my heart and critical for achieving global health equity.
“Health Workers for All and All for Health Workers’ was the slogan of First Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, March 2008, Kampala, Uganda.
The COVID -19 pandemic has once again exposed the global health workforce (HWF) crisis that is characterized by wide spread shortages, mal-distribution and poor working conditions. This HWF crisis was documented by the report of the Joint Learning Initiative on Human Resources for Health in 2004. The HWF shortages have today resulted in a silent scramble to recruit health workers from poor countries by the richer countries. This scramble is inspired by the urgent needed to fill gaps in the scaled up COVID -19 responses and to address long standing HWF shortages.
Visa requirements for health workers have been eased and I have seen recruitment agencies openly advertising for health workers from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean in web posts of some government agencies and in social media. These agencies are convening meetings in poor countries to pirate away health workers who are needed more in their home countries. Significantly, some African and Caribbean countries have formally protested against these clandestine recruitment but have been ignored. These countries have been left to appeal to the patriotism of their HWF to mitigate the dreaded exodus that would cripple health systems during these times of crisis.
This piracy of health workers, left uncontrolled, carries a public health threat to all countries of the world and is untenable. The pivotal role played by the HWF in public health and health emergencies as exposed by the COVID -19 pandemic is sufficient to classify health workers as a Global Public Health Good at par with or ahead of vaccines and drugs. The G20 leaders met recently with the WHO and agreed to collaborate in urgently in developing and equitably sharing new technologies including vaccines and therapies for COVID -19. They should also have included HWF in these discussions and it is regrettable that global support for the HWF agenda has declined. So what is the problem?