IntraHealth Calls for Continued Focus on Health Workforce during 68th World Health Assembly

Last week at the 68th World Health Assembly, IntraHealth International advocated for increased attention to and investment in global health workforce issues, underlining the importance of a global, multisectoral approach to addressing human resources for health. IntraHealth commends the plan of the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop a global strategy on human resources for health to be presented at the 69th World Health Assembly in May 2016. As an international nongovernmental organization in official relations with WHO, IntraHealth delivered five statements during WHO’s annual gathering.

IntraHealth also co-sponsored three side events. On Wednesday, May 21, IntraHealth co-sponsored an event with the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA), World Health Professions Alliance, and International Federation of Medical Student Associations on the health workforce implications of WHO resolutions. The standing-room-only session included a lively discussion on the importance of an adequate, equitably distributed, motivated, and high-performing health workforce in attaining both national health objectives and global health targets, and on the importance of considering health workforce needs in a number of strategies and action plans for various disease priorities.

In its role as co-secretariat of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition, IntraHealth co-sponsored a side event on May 21 called Health in Emergencies. In addition to the coalition, co-sponsors included United Nations agencies and nine member states, led by the Netherlands and New Zealand. The event was organized to galvanize global action and strengthen the role of the WHO in coordinating the global response to ensuring safety and security of health facilities and workers during conflicts and other emergencies. During the event, WHO Director General Margaret Chan spoke passionately about the need to prevent attacks on health workers and facilities. She lit a candle in memory of health workers killed while trying to provide care to those in need. Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition Chair Leonard Rubenstein described the global scope of the problem as reflected in the report the coalition released the same day and pointed a way forward, focused on monitoring and reporting, training, and accountability.

On Thursday, May 22, IntraHealth collaborated with the Center for Global Health and Diplomacy (CGHD), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and General Electric (GE) Health Care in a side session on the intersection of private sector engagement and public health. The discussion called for moving beyond the traditional public-private sector divide and exploring innovative sources of funding for national and global health priorities. During the session, CGHD launched its summer 2015 edition of Global Health and Diplomacy on the theme of the future of sustainable development. IntraHealth President and CEO Pape Gaye moderated a panel, “The Key to Health Systems Sustainability: Health Workers and Other Keystones.” Panelists included Chief Medical Officer of the GE Foundation Dr. David Barash, USAID’s Assistant Administrator and Global Health Bureau Chief Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Joanne Manrique of the CGHD, and Dr. Kate Tulenko, vice president of health systems innovations at IntraHealth and director of the USAID-funded global human resources for health project, CapacityPlus. 

During the panel discussion, Tulenko said, “This is an opportune moment to reemphasize the centrality of the health workforce. Attention has turned to the post-2015 agenda, including elaborating Sustainable Development Goals, developing a Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health, and positioning universal health coverage as a key aspiration.”  Tulenko added, “However, for a large number of countries, including affluent countries where health worker densities are far above the 2.3 per 1000 benchmark for providing the most basic services, health worker shortages and maldistribution prevent those countries from offering the full package of health services that might otherwise be available.” She called for the importance of helping female health workers become leaders and “break through the gauze ceiling” and for “greater attention to the health workforce in goals that will fundamentally shape the global development agenda, as investing in health workers can have an enormous economic, environmental, and social payoff now and for years to come.”

IntraHealth’s key health workforce advocacy messages are summarized in an article Gaye and Tulenko wrote for the summer 2015 edition of Global Health and Diplomacy: “Today, we recognize more than ever the vital importance of the health workforce. We must strengthen the target for health workers in the SDGs. Post-2015, countries must ensure that health workforce issues remain squarely on their country-level sustainable development agendas and not lose traction….The global community must come together to help ensure that health workers of the future are systems-focused, integrated with other sectors, technology-savvy, skilled in responding to non-communicable diseases and emerging health challenges, and, most importantly, comfortable in their roles as change agents.”

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