As the average age of the WHO European Region's population rises, the demand for health workers increases while the supply falls. Health workers in poorer countries are recruited to work abroad, where they can earn more but may have fewer rights than their colleagues. These are some of the health workforce challenges to be discussed in Belgrade, Serbia from 17 to 20 September 2007, where over 300 representatives from the 53 Member States in the Region are attending the fifty-seventh annual session of WHO's European governing body, the WHO Regional Committee for Europe.
The Regional Committee is expected to adopt a resolution to help develop regional plans for the health workforce, including the making of agreements between countries on the movement of health workers. The health workforce was once viewed as a domestic issue; more countries now recognize and are affected by the international dimension of today's challenges. The Regional Committee is expected to help advance countries' dialogue on maximizing the benefits that migrant doctors, midwives, nurses and support workers offer both origin and destination countries, while safeguarding these workers' rights.
Health workforce: issues and needs
The evidence projects a shortage of qualified health workers in the years ahead. For example, countries such as Denmark, France, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are witnessing a greying of the nursing workforce: the average age of employed nurses is 41-45 years. In the United Kingdom, one in five nurses is aged 50 or more and nearly half are over 40; projections for 2010-2011 estimate that there will be 14 000 fewer qualified nurses than required. In the next decade, there will be demands for 7000 more nurses in the Netherlands, 3300 in Norway and 3000 in Switzerland.
While the migration of health workers has always occurred, this issue has grown in prominence with the expansion of the European Union. Many countries, particularly in the central and eastern parts of the European Region are unable to retain the health workers they train, and calls are increasing for ethical guidelines on the international recruitment of health staff. At the same time, western European countries actively recruit health workers from other countries. Over the last 30 years, the number of foreign-trained health professionals in western European countries has increased considerably. Between 1970 and 2005, for example, the proportion of such professionals rose from 1% to 6% of the total in France and the Netherlands, and from 3% to 11% in Denmark.
To respond to these widespread and growing health workforce problems, effective health systems are needed that can adapt to such changing realities, as well as integrated mechanisms in the Region to tackle them. The discussions at the fifty-seventh session of the Regional Committee will bring these issues into the wider agenda for health systems that will be discussed at the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Health Systems: "Health Systems, Health and Wealth", which will be held from 25 to 27 June 2008 in Tallinn, Estonia.
Other issues for the Regional Committee
The Regional Committee will consider adopting a second European action plan on food and nutrition policy. Representatives will discuss the proposed plan for 2007-2012 and detailed recommendations on tackling the obesity epidemic, concerns about undernourishment and the availability of affordable healthy food.
The Regional Committee will also examine the European Region's progress towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, at the midpoint between 2000 and the 2015 target date. Representatives are expected to adopt a resolution calling for scaling up work towards the Goals. So far, the progress towards attaining the health-related Goals is promising, but uneven, and a number of challenges remain. The lack of well-functioning, stronger health systems is a serious obstacle. The HIV epidemic in central and eastern Europe is the fastest growing in the world, and tuberculosis rates remain high. Too little progress has been made in reducing child mortality in some countries of the Region, although it has fallen from 45 to 36 per 1000 live births since 1995. Over 1000 women still die in pregnancy or childbirth every year. Providing services to marginalized and vulnerable groups remains a challenge.
Journalists are invited to attend the following press events:
* the opening press conference organized by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and the Ministry of Health of Serbia, on Monday, 17 September, at 12:30; and
* the closing press conference, scheduled for Thursday, 20 September, at 12:30.
Both press conferences will take place at the National Assembly of Serbia (address: Trg Nikole Pasica 13, 11000 Belgrade).
Mr Boris Tadic, President of Serbia, and Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, will address the Regional Committee session on Tuesday, 18 September, at 09:00.
For accreditation or further information, please contact:
Ms Liuba Negru
Press and Media Relations
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 13 44
Fax: +45 39 17 18 80