Migration of Health Workers

For over a decade now, the global shortage of health professionals has been termed a crisis, and programs to address human resources for health (HRH) have been proposed to overcome the challenges. The World Health Report of 2006 called for health-focused global attention on HRH, particularly in relation to the critical shortages of skilled health professionals (midwives, nurses and physicians) in 57 countries and the centrality of health workers for accelerating progress towards the health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

Moving forwards interactions between the education sector (focusing on the achievement of SDG n° 4, to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning) and the health sector (focusing on the achievement of SDG n° 3, to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages) will be critical in ensuring the optimization of the present health workforce and the production of a future health workforce that is responsive to population needs around the world.

The WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel (the “Code”) adopted in 2010 encourages voluntary information exchange on issues related to health personnel migration, and suggests regular reporting every three years on measures taken to implement the Code.

IOM works in collaboration with national governments and other stakeholders on programs that promote effective management of health worker migration, health systems capacity-building in source countries and skill/ knowledge transfer from the diaspora.

Labour mobility in general, and the migration of health workers in particular, will continue to rise in coming years. Global health tools like the WHO Code of Practice and the Health Workforce 2030: a Global strategy on human resources for health, as well as the relevant 2008 World Health Assembly Resolution on Health of Migrants, provide an evidence-based framework to promote good practices and prevent negative effects of health worker migration.

IOM believes that well-managed migration of health workers can play a key role in development overall, as well as in building capacity of health systems not only in receiving, but also sending countries. This needs engagement with multiple sectors including health, labour and trade within national governments; international recruitment stakeholders; health professional associations and research experts, as well as UN partners like WHO and ILO. Sound models for bilateral and multilateral agreements on recruitment of international health professionals should be developed and applied, while respecting the freedom of health workers to migrate. Such agreements can also favour regional migration and facilitate circular or return migration for critical skills. Finally, improving the availability and international comparability of migration statistics for health personnel is crucial if countries are to develop evidence-based policies.