Commonwealth Health Ministers on Brain Drain - 28/5/2006

link to statement

Released: 22 May 2006

Commonwealth Ministers of Health held their 2006 Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sunday, 21 May. The theme of the Meeting was ‘Human Resources for Health’.

The Hon Rosie Winterton, Minister of State for Health of the United Kingdom, chair (centre), Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Winston Cox (left) and (right) Ann Keeling, Director of the Social Transformation Programmes Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
Taking place on the eve of the World Health Assembly, the meeting was chaired by Hon Rosie Winterton, Minister of State for Health of the United Kingdom, and attended by Ministers and representatives of 45 Commonwealth countries and territories. Representatives of other partners including UN, regional and civil society organisations working in health were also present.

Health Ministers were saddened by the news of the sudden illness of Dr Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and sent their best wishes to him and his family.

Health Ministers received an address delivered on behalf of Dr Lee by Ms Joy Phumaphi, WHO Assistant Director-General, Family and Community Health Cluster. A keynote address by Dr Timothy Evans, WHO Assistant Director-General, Evidence and Information for Policy, focused on the challenges to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) posed by shortages in human resources for health.

Ministers expressed their concerns about the crisis in human resources for the delivery of health care caused by the global shortage of more than 4 million health professionals. They noted that without urgent action to improve the situation, the highest standards of health would become impossible for many countries. They reaffirmed their belief in the value of consensus and collective action to address the strengthening of health systems across the Commonwealth. In particular:

They noted the human resources constraints on health care delivery, the high burden of avoidable and preventable diseases and the wider social determinants of health linked to poverty, environment, lifestyle and conflict.
They endorsed an all-inclusive approach to health workforce policy development, integrating a gender perspective and considering the roles of all health staff, including doctors, nurses, other care-givers, researchers and support staff.
They emphasised the importance of managing health worker migration issues to protect the human resources of the most vulnerable countries. This should include implementing best practices in retention strategies and in attaining self-sufficiency, facilitating the re-integration of returning migrants into the health workforce, and encouraging bilateral agreements between countries as well as partnerships with civil society organisations.
In terms of training and investment in the work force, Health Ministers underlined the need to build regional capacity for training of health workers. They recognised that the Commonwealth had an important role in taking forward the recommendations of the 2006 World Health Report, including aiming to ensure that 50 per cent of international assistance funds are dedicated to health systems, and 50 per cent of that is dedicated to strengthening the national health workforce; including a focus on expanding training capacity.

They recommended the promotion of best practice in ensuring that sufficient resources are allocated to health at the national level, as well as the exploration of innovative ways of accessing financing for healthcare workforce development.
They highlighted that international assistance programmes should not impose constraints on health workforce expansion.
They agreed to continue to work together to deepen implementation of the Commonwealth Code of Practice for the International Recruitment of Health Workers, including further assessment of the options on compensation set out in the Code of Practice, so as to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable Commonwealth citizens. They urged the Secretariat to develop an Action Plan to assist in this work.

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