THE Asia and the Pacific (APAC) region must enhance and further invest in its healthcare workforce amid risks like labor shortages, climate change impacts and changing population dynamics, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.
In a brief “Proceed with Care: Meeting the Human Resources Needs for Health and Aged Care in Asia and the Pacific,” the ADB said that the region supplies many healthcare professionals to the rest of the world.
“In particular, India and the Philippines have collectively trained some 330,000 nurses currently working in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries,” it said.
Investments in human resources for health also have the effect of boosting the economy, the ADB said.
“Not only is a healthier population more productive — health improvements accounted for one-quarter of economic growth in low- and middle-income countries from 2000 to 2011 — but the health sector is also a key economic sector and job generator in its own right,” it said.
“The creation of jobs in the health sector has a multiplier effect across the economy, with two supporting jobs for every worker trained in a health occupation,” it added.
However, the ADB said healthcare is facing various risks, like labor shortages.
“Human resources for health and aged care in Asia and the Pacific face absolute shortages, compounded by a maldistribution of the workforce and a misalignment of skills to needs,” it said.
The brief noted that migration within the region was picking up as middle-income countries seek to replace the human resources that have relocated to high-income countries.
“For example, Fijians who move to the Marshall Islands and Palau are replaced at home by immigrants from the Philippines and elsewhere,” the bank added.
Skilled workers are forced to emigrate due to inadequate wages or lack of employment opportunities, it said.
“This loss of skilled and senior workers from low-resource settings also impacts on the quality of supervision and training for workers who remain, as those with the best skills are the ones most likely to migrate,” it added.
Demand for healthcare workers is expected to hit 80 million by 2030 but supply is only projected at 65 million, with the bulk coming from low- and lower-middle income countries.
“The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the gravity of this shortfall, as staffing shortages emerged as the most common reason that health services were severely disrupted during that time,” the ADB said.
“Death and burnout rates exacerbated these shortages in many settings. Indeed, the high burnout rates underlined the importance of taking healthcare workers’ well-being into account in workforce planning and management, including retention strategies,” it said.
In Asia and the Pacific, the shortage is also more evident for long-term and aged care, it added.
Climate change impacts such as pollution, rising sea levels and degradation of the environment, have also pointed to the need to make the health sector more resilient.
“The health sector also urgently needs to reduce its contribution to climate change — which is more than 5% of net global emissions — by implementing low- or zero-emissions facilities, operations, and supply chains. This requires new types of skills and roles in health systems,” it added. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson