Estimating the health workforce needs for UHC

Estimating the health workforce needs for UHC_Liberia 1

Healthworkers in Kroo Bay health clinic, Sierra Leone
Credit: Anna Kari/Save the Children

The world’s population is rising. By 2035, an additional 1.9 billion people will be seeking to access and obtain high-quality health care within the scope of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). This increased demand and the obligation of governments to respond raise the question of what future global health workforce requirements might be.

To prompt a debate in answering this question, the Global Health Workforce Alliance has estimated the number of additional skilled health professionals (midwives, nurses and physicians) required to reach, in all countries, a minimum density threshold of 34.5 per 10 000 population in 2035 (based on UN population projections and no positive or negative growth in the stock of health professionals).

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Using a simple projection model, it is estimated that 107 countries would be affected by a health worker gap by 2035: leading to a global deficit of about 12.9 million skilled health professionals.

The biggest deficits would be in

    • South East Asia 4.9 million (39%)
    • Africa 4.4 million (34%)
    • Eastern Mediterranean 1.6 million (12%)
    • Western Pacific 1.3 million (10%)
    • Americas 0.6 million (5%)
    • Europe 0.07 million (1%)

Encouragingly, scaling up the number of health workers to address this deficit would be most likely to be feasible in 54% of countries and somewhat likely to be feasible in 32% of countries. However, it would be most unlikely to be feasible in 14% of countries. Africa is the region with the highest number and proportion of countries in which scale up would be unlikely or somewhat likely to be feasible.

These estimates, do not take into account the distribution of health workers within countries or the variable of attrition. If they did, the number of additional workers that would have to be trained to reach and maintain the density threshold at a sub-national level would increase correspondingly, indicating a substantially greater challenge in producing and deploying health workforce to attain or sustain universal health coverage. If all countries wanted to achieve a higher threshold, such as the one associated with ending preventable maternal and newborn deaths , the estimated health worker gap would be even greater.