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WHO warns of health worker shortage of 6.1 million by 2030 as nurse scarcity continues in SA

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The World Health Organization has warned that by the year 2030, the African region will face a shortage of 6.1 million health workers, and this week, as International Nurses Day is celebrated, we are reminded of the stark reality of the shortage of nurses in South Africa.

International Nurses Day is celebrated on May 12. Picture: Supplied

THE WORLD Health Organization (WHO) has warned that by the year 2030, the African region will face a shortage of 6.1 million health workers, and this week, as International Nurses Day is celebrated on May 12, we are reminded of the stark reality of the shortage of nurses in South Africa.

A year ago, the National Department of Health said nurses accounted for 56% of the health workforce, and in 2020, the Hospital Association of South Africa said the country had a shortage of between 26,000 and 62,000 professional nurses, and that by 2030 the demand for nurses in South Africa would increase by up to 340,000.

Speaking at an event to celebrate International Nurses Day, Professor Jennifer Chipps, from the UWC’s School of Nursing, said South Africa has a critical shortage of nurses and is facing an ageing nursing population.

“We don’t all need to be ‘heroic leaders’, but we must be the best ethical nurses we can be, continue to act as informal leaders, aim to lead others through servant and relational leadership and be the leaders in our profession who guide the health sector through the current changes we face,” Chipps said.

In an in-depth review of the past decade, a WHO report this week gave a detailed analysis of the dramatic changes and challenges in the public health system and looked at future projections and economic stability.

The WHO said that the health workforce rose from 1.6 million in 2013 to 5.1 million in 2022 and the African region will face a shortage of 6.1 million health workers by 2030.

The report addressed critical issues, such as the migration of health workers, funding deficits, and the varied success of health workforce strategies across different regions.

“The African region will face a shortage of 6.1 million health workers by 2030 if we want to tackle the disease burden with effective service interventions across health promotion, disease prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliation.

“Of the anticipated shortage, about 5.3 million of these health workers will be doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and dentists,” said the WHO.

It said countries needed to ewxpand the training of health workers by 8-12% annually to meet the needs of the population.

It pointed out that the capacity to train health workers has increased by 70% from 150,000 graduates in 2018 to more than 255,000 in 2022 as countries have invested in training health workers from over 4,000 training institutions and programmes.

“The private sector contributes at least 40% of this capacity. Africa’s training output for doctors increased from 6,000 per year in 2005 to almost 39,850 presently, and more than 151,300 nurses and midwives are being produced per year compared to 26,000 in 2005,” the WHO explained in its report.

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