Partners in assessing critical issues facing the Pacific health workforce

A group of Fijian female nurses are standinig paying atten to a speaker off camera. The vare in white uniformasd and wear blue surgical face masks. One womans is in focus the other are progresivley blurred. Image Curtsey of WHO Western Region
Image by WHO Western Region

Pacific Island health systems have historically provided relatively affordable and accessible health care. Long-term challenges, including those related to limited human and financial resources, have impacted progress on the coverage of essential health services at all levels of the health system at a time when they are under pressure to better respond to the burden of non-communicable disease and violence against women, as well as the impacts of climate change.

Increasing the numbers and training opportunities for the health workforce in the Pacific is therefore a key imperative of governments across the region. The Health Systems, Governance and Financing unit has been engaged in different projects with Fiji National University, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the United Nations Children’s Fund to support planning and program design around the health workforce strengthening activities.

Across the Pacific, particularly in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the primary challenge is training more nurses and doctors with better skills to address the multiple challenges health systems face. Retention of staff in the public system is a major challenge in these countries - not only associated with COVID burnout - but also with migration within the Pacific and to Australia and New Zealand, as well as loss to the private sector. A further challenge is improving the distribution of health workers throughout the health system, including at the primary care level.

Through our work, we have supported partners to engage in critical reflection and design on programs to strengthen the health workforce across the Pacific in a sustainable way. For example, over the past six months we have supported FNU to understand how demand for its undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing professional development courses are changing and how they can best respond to the various needs of Pacific Ministries of Health. The interconnectedness of the production and distribution of the health workforce in the Pacific is a unique aspect of our region and makes dialogue between countries and training institutions a strategic imperative to ensure training meets the needs of Pacific health systems over the next ten years.

Developing the health workforce for the Pacific is essential to overcome workforce shortages;  strengthen health systems; and to achieving universal health coverage.

Katherine Gilbert heads the Health Systems Governance and Financing team.  She uses her quantitative and qualitative research skills to focus on key policy issues.

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Katherine Gilbert

  • health workforce strengthening
  • Pacific Island
  • health systems