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Call for joint action to manage migration of health professionals

27 June 2008

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A WHO report highlights the need for governments and leaders in the WHO European Region to better manage health personnel issues, including migration, by improving data collection, developing effective policies and reducing migration’s negative effects.

The report, “How can the migration of health service professionals be managed so as to reduce any negative effects on supply?”, outlines how the effective management of health worker migration is critical to ensuring solid and functioning health systems in both source countries – those that health workers leave – and destination countries – those recruiting and receiving increased numbers of migrant health workers.

“Like anyone, health workers have the right to travel and seek a better life. At the same time, people in countries hard-hit by emigration have the right to health. Technical solutions must be found to balance the right to migrate with the right for all to have access to a well-functioning health system, and there are ethical dimensions also to be considered,” said Dr Nata Menabde, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for Europe.

The WHO report underlines that some countries, particularly those in the eastern part of the European Region, are concerned about the emigration of health workers as a result of EU accession.

WHO research shows that foreign-born doctors currently average 18%, and foreign-born nurses, 11%, of the totals in countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Increases have been particularly large in the European Region, where the average annual growth in foreign-trained doctors and nurses can reach up to 30% in some countries.

“With aging populations and the increasing burden of disease, we know that demand for health workers will increase, meaning emigration trends are likely to persist. What is crucial now is for European countries to adopt an ethical approach to their health worker needs and thereby reduce the negative impacts of migration on health systems in developing countries,” said the Honourable Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland.

“The right to health means having access to quality care and we must all work together to achieve this goal as soon and as effectively as possible.”

WHO Conference 2008