By Moy Bracken, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health

There is no health without healthcare workers. This is not a cost but an investment

The theme of investing in healthcare workers was central to the opening ceremony of the fourth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Dublin. Health workers save lives and are the backbone of an effective, efficient health system. This week, international delegates from the fields of public health, development, research, and policy congregated to discuss the challenges facing health systems due to the global deficit of skilled health care workers.

Ireland’s Minister for Health Simon Harris acknowledged that the Human Resources for Health (HRH) crisis ‘transcends geographical and political borders’ and reiterated Ireland’s commitment to implementing the World Health Organisation code on HRH to build a sustainable and resilient workforce. An estimated shortfall of 18 million healthcare workers worldwide is projected by 2030, with population growth and migration of health workers to better labour markets cited as two of the major challenges to recruitment and retention. The critical shortage of health workers is often felt where they are required the most, including rural areas and low-income countries.

The opening plenary, ‘Health Systems for the Future: 2030 and Beyond’, provided an interesting discussion on the opportunities and challenges that HRH agenda faces. Delegates discussed how previous fora have analysed the HRH problem at length, but the Dublin forum is an opportunity to implement sustainable solutions. Political will and commitment are two of the most important factors required to stem the HRH crisis. Here, Dr Sarah Achieng Opendi, Minister of State for Health of Uganda, noted:

Political will without leadership and commitment of resources is nothing.

Investment in health workers has the potential to yield both direct and indirect benefits, but development will not occur without investment. Well-resourced, skilled health workers are motivated and equipped to maximise health gains and reduce inequities. Indirectly, a healthy population is a productive population, benefiting economic and social development.

The theme of youth empowerment in HRH was championed by Kevin McMahon, the Youth Forum representative. The Youth Forum had convened earlier to discuss the HRH youth action plan, where financing of health workers was dubbed as a ‘smart investment’. He advocated to “looking at the future of healthcare workers in a proactive way and not as a reactive adjustment”. The eagerness of the youth movement to have a seat at the table in the decision-making process was encouraging, as they will be drive the change required to meet future targets and objectives.

The sentiments of the audience were perhaps best summarised by Miatta Gnaya, a delegate from Liberia, who noted that accountability is critical in ensuring that promising declarations are more than just rhetoric. Her point was met with applause from an audience no doubt au fait with working in a system that is both under resourced and overburdened. There was a sense that the speakers were ‘preaching to the converted’ – the delegates understand what is required to strengthen the global HRH sector. The challenge for building a sustainable health workforce, therefore, lies in convincing those in power that a long-term investment in human resources will yield a far greater return in terms of economic development.


November 15th, 2017


Moy Bracken recently graduated from the Masters in Global Health Programme at Trinity College Dublin. Moy’s interests cover the areas of epidemiology, access to medicines, and achieving health equity. She is currently working as a locum pharmacist in Dublin.


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