“Decent working conditions for the young health workforce: what are the challenges and can we find solutions?”

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. José Ganicho, a 5th-year medical student from the Beira Interior University, Member of the Medical Students Association from Portugal. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Decent working conditions: assuring a sustainable Health Workforce

In 2015, the UN Member States, as part of the 2030 Agenda, adopted 17 Goals to be carried out in 15 years: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They represent a framework to tackle the biggest threats we face and that undermine the sustainable future of our planet. The SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth – clearly sets forward an ambitious agenda to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all. Furthermore, SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being – highlights the importance of ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. (1) As stated in the opening message of the Framing the health workforce agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals: biennium report 2016–2017, “Health workers are the critical pathway to attaining the health targets in SDG 3”. (2) In fact, both our Health Workforce and our goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) are clearly interdependent, which means that without a focus on both of them, we cannot achieve Health for All.

It is predicted by 2030 a potential shortfall of 8 million health workers and in order to prevent this, we need to develop a comprehensive strategy that can guarantee a well-distributed, technically and humanistically capable and supported health workforce, which will require a local, national and international commitment. In fact, the ever-changing needs of our communities will demand that Health Systems and Professionals continuously adapt, assuring that everyone has access to health care services and that no one is left behind. In order for this to happen, we need to invest in providing decent working conditions to our health professionals, promoting a professional and personal environment for them to develop themselves and their skills.

As the International Labour Organization (ILO) states, decent working conditions encompass a variety of factors, such as a fair income, security in the workplace, social protection for families, better prospects for personal development, social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men. (3) As we can clearly see, decent working conditions is more than just a fair and equal income but also requires a careful analysis of our health systems infrastructure, an opportunity for continuous professional development, equal opportunities and the development of a positive professional, personal and social environment. In order for us to achieve this goal, we need to call for a structural change on how our countries tackle this issue, with the first step being a comprehensive strategy that can tackle this issue from a multi ministerial approach that can address the different needs of our health professionals.

Concluding, we can only achieve UHC if we develop a coordinated approach that can tackle the shortfall of Health Professionals (in terms of the right number, in the right place with the right set of skills) but also the working conditions in which they develop their own activity.


About the author

José Ganicho is a 5th-year medical student from the Beira Interior University, Member of the Medical Students Association from Portugal, ANEM- Portugal, National Member Organization of International Federation of Medical Students Associations. For the past four years, he has been involved in multiple initiatives and discussions in the field of National and International External Affairs, Global Health and Health Workforce.


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