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Global Health
May 19, 2020

WHO: Strengthen Nurse Workforce

JAMA. 2020;323(19):1886. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.6430

An urgent global effort is needed to bolster the nurse workforce, according to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Council of Nurses, and Nursing Now, an international campaign to raise nurses’ status.

A worldwide shortage of nurses is most acute in low- and middle-income countries.

Mauro Fermariello/sciencesource.com

Based on data from 191 countries, the report found that although the shortage of nurses worldwide improved slightly, from 6.6 million in 2016 to 5.9 million in 2018, an estimated 89% of that shortage, or 5.3 million nurses, is in low- and middle-income countries. About 80% of the world’s nurses are concentrated in countries that are home to only half of the world’s population; 1 in 8 work in a country other than where they were born or trained. An aging nurse workforce may exacerbate the gap, with 1 in 6 nurses expected to retire in the next 10 years.

“Today, many nurses find themselves on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19 [coronavirus disease 2019],” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said in a statement. “This report is a stark reminder of the unique role they play, and a wakeup call to ensure they get the support they need to keep the world healthy.”

To alleviate the shortage by 2030, countries with shortages should increase the number of nurse graduates 8% per year and boost their employment prospects and retention, the report found. It also recommended increasing nurses’ leadership positions, including creating a chief nurse position at the highest level of government. Countries reliant on migrant nurses should also strengthen their homegrown workforce to reduce brain drain in high-need areas.