Home International Global shortfall of 5.9 million nurses, says WHO

Global shortfall of 5.9 million nurses, says WHO


Greatest gaps found in countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean and some parts of Latin America

“NURSES are the backbone of any health system. Today many nurses find themselves on the front line in the battle against Covid-19. This report is a stark reminder of the unique role they play and a wake-up call to ensure they get the support they need to keep the world healthy.”

So said World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus on the release of The State of the World’s Nursing 2020 report on Tuesday, which was compiled to identify gaps in the nursing workforce and priority areas for investment in education, jobs and leadership.

The report shows that there are just under 28 million nurses worldwide. 

Between 2013 and 2018, nursing numbers increased by 4.7 million, but it still leaves a global shortfall of 5.9 million with the greatest gaps found in countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean and some parts of Latin America. 

One in every eight nurses practises in a country other than the one where they were born or trained. Ageing also threatens the nursing workforce, as one out of six of the world’s nurses are expected to retire in the next 10 years. 

The WHO reacted, saying: “To avert the global shortage, the report estimates that countries experiencing shortages need to increase the total number of nurse graduates by an average 8% per year, along with improved ability to be employed and retained in the health system.” International Council of Nurses president Annette Kennedy said: “Every penny invested in nursing raises the well-being of people and families in tangible ways that are clear for everyone to see. This report highlights the nursing contribution and confirms that investment in the nursing profession is a benefit to society, not a cost. 

“The world needs millions more nurses, and we are calling on governments to do the right thing, invest in this profession and watch their populations benefit from the amazing work that only nurses can do.”

About 90% of all nurses are female, yet few nurses are found in senior health leadership positions, as the bulk of those positions are held by men. 

But when countries enable nurses to take a leadership role, for example by having a government chief nursing officer, and nursing leadership programmes, conditions for nurses improve, the report suggested. 

Nursing Now co-chairperson Lord Nigel Crisp said: “This report places much-needed data and evidence behind calls to strengthen nursing leadership, advance nursing practice and educate the nursing workforce for the future. The policy options reflect actions we believe all countries can take over the next 10 years to ensure there are enough nurses in all countries, and that nurses use the full extent of their education, training, and professional scope to enhance primary health care delivery and respond to health emergencies such as Covid-19.”

To equip the world with the nursing workforce it needs, the WHO and its partners recommend that countries:

– Increase funding to educate and employ more nurses.

– Strengthen capacity to collect, analyse and act on data about the health workforce.

– Monitor nurse mobility and migration and manage it responsibly.

– Educate and train nurses in the scientific, technological and sociological skills they need to drive progress in primary health care. 

– Establish leadership positions including a government chief nurse and support leadership development among young nurses.

– Ensure that nurses in health care teams work to their full potential, for example in preventing and managing non-communicable diseases.

– Improve working conditions including through safe staffing levels, fair salaries and respecting rights to occupational health and safety. 

– Implement gender-sensitive nursing workforce policies.

– Modernise professional nursing regulation by harmonising education and practice standards and using systems that can recognise and process nurses’ credentials globally.

– Strengthen the role of nurses in care teams by bringing different sectors (health, education, immigration, finance and labour) together with nursing stakeholders for policy dialogue and workforce planning.

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