Let’s Not Get Stuck on the Numbers

November 17, 2017
By Ifunanya Ikhile, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health


It is common knowledge now that there will be a huge shortfall of about 18 million health workers by the year 2030: the same year in which we hope to achieve universal health coverage. “This is despite an additional 40 million health workers that would have been added to the current workforce. Also the health accounts would be in a deficit of about 3 trillion dollars at that time,” as pointed out by Tanya Wuliji during the Youth Forum of the Human Resources for Health Conference. While these figures are enough to cause global panic, it is important that we do not get stuck on the numbers.

There is an equally-important issue of quality to consider which has been clearly pointed out on the conference message board. The quantity-quality debate is one that we may never see the end of. Which would you choose if they were mutually exclusive? Thankfully in this case they are not, hence we must consider both equally.

While the global focus is on ensuring that the shortage of health workers is handled, we must remember that there would be no use for a billion health workers who are poorly trained or whose skills do not match the health needs of the population employing them. At best they may function in capacities less than those in which they are needed and at worst they may be a danger to the communities employing them.

To paint a clear picture, as an employer would you prefer fifty under-qualified, poorly trained, unproductive staff or 10 highly motivated, highly skilled, productive staff.  I am aware that there are many countries who have the quantity advantage, the highly populous nations are not necessarily the most developed. There are several other factors that drive development. It has never really been a question of numbers. History is replete with stories of how wit and intelligence has outmatched numbers. There are always ways around the issue of numbers.

Tied to quality are issues of needs-based education, inter-professional collaboration, equitable allocation of available resources, migration management and control to consider within the health sector. While these are not easy to achieve, they are immediate solutions that can be tackled head on. As Nelson Mandela said, it always seems impossible until it is done. There is a lot to be achieved when there is shared knowledge, a common goal and the will to succeed.

While we work towards bridging the workforce gap let us maximize the potential of the available workforce. There is more to be done with what we already have. Health is not a matter of numbers, it is a matter of people. These people should not just be nameless and faceless statistical projections of the future, they must first of all be the health professionals who are not well trained, who are not well remunerated, who are not motivated hence migrate in search of better conditions of employment.

I agree with Nelson Mandela – that education is the most powerful tool to effect change and make progress, but every tool is useless until it is put to use. We should work together, bright minds that we are, to handle this issue from both a quantity and quality perspective. The best way to prepare for the future is to get it right in the now. After all today is the future we spoke about yesterday, and we can only change tomorrow today.


November 16th, 2017


Ifunanya is a Pharmacist, a passionate educator, has worked as a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria for four years, and is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, Division of Pharmacy Practice and Policy. Her current goal is to improve Pharmacy Education in Lower and Lower-Middle Income countries through a needs-based approach.

She has acquired broad professional experience spanning Oncology with Pfizer, Community Pharmacy, Urban and Rural Hospitals, Specialized Pharmaceutical Care, Pharmacy Administration, Industrial Pharmacy, Charity Organizations, and Academia. She loves reading, and meeting people.


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