A recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that around 50 million jobs are lacking to address the requirements for global health coverage. The goal of achieving universal healthcare had been included in the new agenda on sustainable development for 2030 but, with 400 million people lacking health care worldwide, the work to be done is still substantial.
The job shortage does not only concern healthcare professionals like doctors and nurses, but also the broader support staff working in administration and maintenance. The gap in supply and demand has led to up to 57 million unpaid and informal care workers, particularly women, taking care of elderly or sick relatives.
The need for health workers is only expected to increase in the coming years, in response to an aging global population and increase in non-communicable diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Meanwhile, the current workforce is retiring or leaving for better paid jobs without being replaced and the number of young people entering the profession is decreasing.
Poor working conditions
The relative low pay and demanding work are both identified as reasons why many people decide to leave the profession. Providing improved salaries, adequate working conditions and employment protections could lead to a reversing of this tendency. Additionally, the jobs currently performed by informal care workers will have to be transformed into paid jobs to address gender inequalities and lead to inclusive economic growth.
Addressing this global shortage can be an opportunity for long-term growth, leading to great economic benefits and reductions in unemployment. The ILO report shows how health investments can act as employment multipliers both within and beyond the healthcare sector even for unskilled workers and returns on investments are projected to be substantial.
The widest gaps
The countries most affected by the global shortage are those of Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, where many nations are below the minimal threshold of 23 health care professionals every 10,000 people. These countries also experience the phenomenon of ‘brain drain’, which exacerbates the shortage crisis, as trained doctors and nurses emigrate and take up better paid jobs in developed countries. Retention of health workers in underdeveloped countries is another major challenge that will have to be addressed in the hope of reducing the number of missing doctors.
For trained health workers, this global shortage means employment opportunities in virtually every country in the world, including richer countries like the United States, which will face a shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2025 and the United Kingdom, which is currently experiencing a shortage of emergency doctors. Countries around the world are taking steps, albeit slowly, to address this global shortage, but as results will not be seen for many years and investment is still scarce, the goal of universal health care will likely not be achieved too soon.
Image: Rhoda Baer