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PAHO aims to reduce shortage of health workers in the Americas, improve distribution, and enhance skills to achieve SDGs

New PAHO strategy to guide national policies on human resources for health to overcome an estimated shortage of almost 800,000 workers

Washington, D.C., 29 September 2017 (PAHO/WHO) – A new strategy approved by the 29th Pan American Sanitary Conference of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) aims to guide national policies on human resources for health in the countries of the Region of the Americas to reduce the shortage of health workers, improve their geographical distribution, and enhance their skills in order to achieve universal health and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to the most recent estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Region requires almost 800,000 additional health workers to meet people’s essential health needs, while offering a broader range of services and people-centered integrated health care.

“In recent decades, the countries of the Region have reduced profound imbalances in the health workforce and have improved the provision and availability of personnel at the first level of care”, said PAHO Director, Carissa F. Etienne. However, “Inequities remain in the availability, distribution, and quality of personnel,” she added.

Causes of the shortage include limited retention of health workers in rural and underserved areas, high rates of mobility and migration, precarious working conditions, and a lack of culturally sensitive workers with training appropriate to the health needs of the population.

“If we want to reach the SDGs, particularly universal health coverage, we must have adequate health personnel, and we must have them in the places that need them,” said Etienne.

The new Strategy on Human Resources for Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage sets out three lines of action:

Strengthen and consolidate governance and leadership in human resources for health

Develop conditions and capacities in human resources for health to expand access to health and health coverage, with equity and quality

Partner with the education sector to respond to the needs of health systems in transformation toward universal access to health and universal health coverage

The plan urges countries to raise public spending and improve financial efficiency to increase the availability and retention of health personnel, develop information systems on human resources for health to strengthen strategic planning and forecasting of current and future needs, and promote the development of multi-professional teams in health services networks.

The strategy suggests that professional health education should be transformed to include the principles of social mission, a public health perspective, and a social determinants approach. It also says human resources training should be aligned with current and future health system needs; and positions in family and community health and in basic specialties should be increased.


The Pan American Sanitary Conference is the supreme authority of PAHO and meets every five years to determine its general policies. It also acts as a forum for the exchange of information and ideas on disease prevention; the preservation, promotion, and recovery of physical and mental health; and the promotion of public health facilities and measures for the prevention and treatment of physical and mental illnesses in the Americas.


Strategy on Human Resources for Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage

High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth

Global strategy on human resources for health: Workforce 2030

Health Workforce Requirements for Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. (2016)

Core Indicators 2016. Health Situation in the Americas

29th Pan American Sanitary Conference


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