April 27, 2023 — Lluis Vinyals Torres, WHO Western Pacific Regional Office Coordinator of Health Policy and Service Design, delivered a keynote speech during the International Scientific Conference on Nursing (ISCN) 2023 held on April 12 that highlighted the important role of nurses in achieving universal health care, the current situation in the Western Pacific Region, and the challenges faced by nursing professionals particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Torres emphasized that the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the critical role of nursing in achieving universal health coverage (UHC). He stated that one of the key challenges for UHC is the availability of human resources for health (HRH).
Torres noted that although more HRH may be produced, it does not necessarily correlate to an improvement in service delivery with a higher distribution of HRH in cities, neglecting other areas where health services are urgently needed. Regulations that provide support and contribute to increasing service coverage index are needed. Torres emphasized the importance of better data to support policymaking and to address issues related to HRH education, quality, and governance.
According to the WHO WPRO coordinator, the Western Pacific Region has nearly 7 million nurses which account for a quarter of the entire nursing workforce worldwide. However, there is still an estimated shortage of 350,000 nurses based on the global benchmark of 44.5 nurses per 10,000 population. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the HRH shortage, with some countries recruiting nurses aggressively to address their own shortages.
One of the reactions from middle-income countries like the Philippines is to try to retain its nurses; however, we must battle a
set of policies which includes education, provision of a credible career path, and adequate remuneration to keep these nurses in the system. He acknowledged that the global code of practice for international recruitment by the WHO is not intended to stop the migration of health workers, but rather to establish a dialogue between countries to find common goals.
“We are jointly preparing the human resources for health strategic framework. We think that the HRH policies need to be aligned with a primary healthcare-based model. If we move the workload from hospital-centric approach to primary health care, this will stretch HRH stewardship and optimize the skills and potentials of nurses and midwives by enabling them to work to the full extent of their education,” Torres said while acknowledging the need for policies that focus on education, career development, and remuneration to retain nursing professionals.