Wemos advocates sustainable and fair health worker policy. Worldwide, health workers are unevenly distributed. It is expected that by 2030, there will be 40 million more health sector jobs, mostly in middle- and high- income countries – while in low-income countries, the shortage of health workers is expected to increase to 18 million. This would have a damaging impact on the health of the populations in these countries. 

This programme is part of the Health Systems Advocacy Partnership for strengthening health systems for sexual and reproductive health and rights, in Sub-Saharan Africa and worldwide. Health workers have become increasingly mobile and their migration patterns have become more dynamic. For example, the increase in health workforce vacancies in European high-come countries – which offer higher salaries and better facilities – attracts trained health workers from low-income countries with poor working conditions and fragile health systems. This exacerbates the workforce shortage in low-income countries and leads to the ‘brain drain’ of valuable human resources.


For their part, low-income countries also attract health workers from other low-income countries, as well as from high-income countries. What is more: health workers do not only migrate between countries, but also within countries, and within and between regions. Health workforce mobility is thus not a one- or two-way street, but rather an entangled web of movement.

WHO Code

Our principle regarding health worker mobility is that we should not give with one hand (through development assistance for health), while also taking with the other (attracting health workers from countries with shortages).


The discussion about the increased global health workforce mobility and migration needs to include redistribution aspects, decent work conditions, and a gender perspective. Together with our African partner organisations, Wemos closely monitors health care institutions, unions, professional organisations, NGOs, health care personnel, recruitment agencies, migrant organisations and ministries to ensure that they adhere to the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel (WHO Code). This code aims to discourage unethical recruitment practices that undermine already weak health systems.


Wemos advocates ethical recruitment of foreign health staff

Human resources for health & gender

In the global health and social sector, women account for 70.3% of the workforce. Of that total, 80% consists of nurses, and 90% of the nurses are women. This makes them the vast majority in the health system. Nevertheless, women are underrepresented in decision-making positions. Moreover, they face a higher risk of (sexual) harassment, discrimination, bias, and deskilling than their male colleagues. We advocate increased investment in skilled human resources for health and decent working conditions, so more women can participate in the formal, remunerated health and social sector, across all cadres, including community health workers. Increased employment opportunities benefit women as individuals – they offer them an income, job security, and career possibilities – and also help strengthen health care delivery services, and the health system as a whole.

Coherent policies for sustainable health workforces

Decision makers in the European Union and member states should apply a coherent approach to the sector policies currently in place to develop and maintain sustainable, gender-sensitive health workforces both in and outside Europe. This requires solid cooperation of the health sector with the sector of education, labour, migration and finances as set out in the WHO Code and other global agreements on the health workforce.

Wemos therefore believes that:

  • EU member states (including The Netherlands) should work to establish a long-term, sustainable, domestic health workforce – and not resort to ‘quick fixes’ by recruiting personnel from countries with an unstable health system.
  • EU member states (including The Netherlands) should co-invest as donors in the health workforce of low-income countries in line with international commitments, such as the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Workers, the Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health, and the five-year Action Plan on Health Employment and Inclusive Economic Growth.
  • EU member states (including The Netherlands) and African countries in the Health Systems Advocacy Partnership should improve their (gender disaggregated) data on health workforce mobility and migration, in line with provisions in the WHO Code and the Association of Medical Councils of Africa (AMCOA) protocol, and following the UN HEEG Commission’s recommendations.

Health Workers For All Coalition

The Health Workers for All Coalition represents global, regional and local diverse groups of civil society organizations, academic institutions, and health workers’ professional associations and unions. The coalition advocates access to health workers for all in order to fulfil the right to health and to reach Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Secretariat of the Health Workers for All Coalition is hosted by Wemos.

Health Workers for All

Before co-founding the Health Workers for All Coalition, Wemos was already working on this theme as the coordinator of the project Health Workers for All – a collaboration between 8 countries that ran from 2013 until early 2016. We collected case studies from different countries, and organised expert meetings and a petition. Visit the Health Workers for All page for more information.

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