Reflections on Recife and the Global Health Workforce: Metrics and Motivations

By Michael Bzdak; Executive Director, Johnson & Johnson Worldwide Corporate Contributions

The Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health has concluded and although the issue of human resources for health is enjoying an uptick of attention within the international community, it is clear that much more needs to be done to support and honor existing workers while at the same time attracting new entrants into the health workforce. And honor them we must. Without urgent attention, there will be a projected shortage of more than 12 million health workers by 2035.

Two themes came up a number of times throughout the forum, providing a consistent and hard-to- ignore drumbeat. First, it is apparent that in our collective quest to make sure that everyone has access to well-trained, competent and culturally-sensitive health workers, we have to improve our collection of reliable data and ensure that we have functional and reliable human resource databases in every region of the world. It is no surprise that GHWA and WHO recognize this as a key recommended action – and a number of organizations are stepping up to the plate with solutions to what has been a stubborn problem.

CapacityPlus is developing a “Dean’s Dashboard” for improving the management of health professional schools which will allow comparative data analysis between schools. Management Sciences for Health presented a costing tool, a powerful means for countries, districts or communities to project their human resource needs in order to plan and allocate appropriate financial resources. In addition, others are advancing sophisticated discussions around economic and policy factors affecting the health labor market.

The second theme that threaded through the Forum was the emphasis on the human dimension of the health workforce. Although we speak about health systems and models of care delivery, we should always remember that health workers are unique human beings with a calling to help and heal their fellow human beings. I was heartened to learn that many of the analytics and evidence-based approaches focused on solutions to improve the motivation, development and career advancement of health workers. Each health worker is drawn to serve their community and comes to their role with different skills, aspirations and ambitions, and the Global Health Workers Alliance (GHWA) gave recognition to a number of health workerswho exemplify the dedication and commitment it takes to work in areas where resources are limited.

Although we need costing tools, analytics and a better understanding of how to fill gaps in the health workforce, we also need to recognize the individuals who comprise the global health workforce and strive to meet their needs as both human beings and health professionals. Boosting their numbers, and nurturing their passion and skills is a critical gateway to a healthier world.

Mary Beth Powers of Save the Children recently wrote, “We really have got to change our game in terms of valuing and supporting existing health workers and recruiting and training the next generation.” I wholeheartedly agree. The Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health gave us a chance to open our eyes and hearts and the eyes of world leaders to the critical role of frontline health workers around the world. What we do together in the coming months is critical.