Global Shortage of Health Workers
Mission Statement of the Scientific Committee on Occupational Health for Health care Workers
Gwen Brachman, Chair of the SCOHHW
Health workers comprise the largest global workforce and are found in every country. The health care workforce includes individuals whoprovide health services – doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, emergency medical responders, medical, nursing and dental assistants, therapists, laboratory technicians, social workers and pharmacists along with students training in these areas. The health workforce also includes those individuals who provide management and supportive services – administrators, financial officers, clerical personnel, cooks, transport (both within-facility and drivers), security, housekeeping and facilities operations (plumbers, electricians, painters, carpenters). Worldwide, there are 59.8 million health workers. About two-thirds of them (39.5 million) provide health services; the other one-third (19.8 million) are management and support workers. Women comprise nearly 80% of the health care work force (WHO).
Women comprise nearly 80% of the healthcare work force
Health care is the fastest-growing industry in many developed countries. At the same time, there is a global shortaqe of health care personnel, which has reached a crisis level in 57 countries, most of them in Africa, Asia and the Mid-East. Currently there is a shortage of 7.2 million health care workers; this shortage is expected to increase to 12.9 million by 2035. (WHO, 2006) Although there are several factors leading to the shortage of health care workers, a major contributor is unsafe working conditions leading to work-related illness and injury with significant morbidity and mortality (particularly from infectious diseases including HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Tuberculosis and Ebola). The fear of contracting one of these illnesses leads to further attrition and to a decreased number of individuals entering the health care professions. The shortage of health care workers puts increased work demands and stress on the remaining health care workforce, which, in turn, further increases unsafe working conditions. Protecting the health and safety of health care workers is essential in order to have an adequate workforce of trained and healthy health care personnel.
Health care workers are exposed to a variety of health and safety hazards
A health care facility is a workplace as well as a place for receiving and giving care. Cases of occupational injury and illness among health care workers are among the highest of any industry sector. Health care workers are exposed to a complex variety of health and safety hazards on a daily basis including: biological hazards (such as TB, Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola); chemical hazards (such as, glutaraldehyde, ethylene oxide, latex); physical hazards (such as noise, radiation, slips, trips and falls); ergonomic hazards (such as heavy lifting, repetitive motion at awkward angles); psychosocial hazards (such as shiftwork, violence and stress); fire and explosion hazards (such as using oxygen, alcohol sanitizing gels).
No effective health care system without a healthy workforce
Because their jobs are to care for patients, the hazards and risks that health care workers face every day are often ignored or relegated to a low priority. In fact, health care workers are “expected” to accept the risks entailed in performing their jobs, often sacrificing their own health and safety for that of their patients. Fortuitously, the measures that protect health care workers from injury and illness also serve to protect patients’ health and safety. Health care workers need to be protected from workplace hazards; there can be no effective health care system without a healthy workforce.
The aims of the Scientific Committee on Occupational Health for Healthcare Workers (SCOHHW) are:
- Foster the scientific progress, knowledge and development of occupational health and safety in health care settings
- Provide forums for discussion of current health and safety issues affecting health care workers and health care settings
- Foster and participate in international dialogues and provide input for guidance regarding health and safety issues for health care workers
- Create guidelines, tools and training opportunities and make these available to ICOH members and other interested persons and institutions
- Foster cooperative relationships with WHO, ILO and other international and NGO organizations in pursuing the above stated goals
The Scientific Committee on Occupational Health for Healthcare Workers (SCOHHW) is the main organizer of the OHHW 2019.