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2021 is the International Year of Health & Care Workers

2021 has been designated as the International Year of Health and Care Workers (YHCW) in appreciation and gratitude for their unwavering dedication in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) is launching a year-long campaign, under the theme – Protect. Invest. Together. It highlights the urgent need to invest in health workers for shared dividends in health, jobs, economic opportunity and equity.

The WHO campaign highlights the urgent need to invest in health workers for shared dividends in health, jobs, economic opportunity and equity. This means ensuring appropriate protection and conditions of work. It calls for additional investments in health and care workers’ education and employment. It means a shared vision for investing in people as the foundation of Health for All. Together the global community has the opportunity to realize this vision.

Facts on health & care workers

  • Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries faced pre-existing health workforce challenges, including shortages estimated at 18 million globally, mostly in low- and lower-middle-income countries[i] maldistribution, and misalignment of needs and skills.

  • The pandemic has further impacted the availability and capacity of health workers to preserve continuity of essential services: according to a pulse survey conducted by WHO in August 2020, nearly all of 105 responding countries reported substantial disruptions of essential health service:

  • 49% of countries because of deployment of staff to respond to COVID-19

  • 44% of countries because of insufficient personal protective equipment available for their health providers.

  • 29% of countries because of insufficient staffing level to provide services[ii].

  • A recent review of health care professionals found a 23% prevalence of depression and anxiety, and 39% prevalence of insomnia during COVID-19).

  • An independent analysis has identified industrial dispute and strike action in 84 Member States since February 2020)[iv]. 38% of those are due to indecent work and 29% because of lack to PPE.

  • COVID-19 highlights how important it is for all health and care workers to have access to the most up-to-date knowledge and guidance required to respond to such outbreaks. It also underscores the critical (and often unmet need) for protective equipment so they can safely provide care and reduce the rate of infection in health settings.

  • WHO estimates that in order to deploy the size of the vaccine coverage in 2021 (20% of global population, i.e. approximately 1.5 billion people: health and care workers, people at risk) will require about 1.1 million full-time-equivalent health workers; also high-income countries have identified the need to hire additional staff for a successful vaccine roll-out.

  • International health worker migration is increasing in scale and complexity. Data from over 80 WHO Member States[vi] indicate that across countries over a quarter of doctors and over a third of dentists and pharmacists are foreign-trained and/or foreign-born.

  • The State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020 additionally identifies that about one in eight of all nurses globally is practicing in a country different from where they were born.

  • Achieving health for all will depend on there being sufficient numbers of well-trained and educated, regulated and well supported health workers, who receive pay and recognition commensurate with the services and quality of care that they provide.

  • Investing in health workers is good value for money. The report of the UN High Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth concluded that investments in education and job creation in the health and social sectors result in a triple return of improved health outcomes, global health security, and inclusive economic growth.

  • Despite health workforce being a leading expenditure of governments, only 7% of all development assistance for health went to support health workforce between 1990-2016. Most resources went for short term project based interventions, rather than investments in long-standing health workforce challenges.

Learn more about the Year of the Health Care Worker and how you can get involved on the WHO's website.

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