WHO releases state of the world report on nursing

April 7, 2020

On World Health Day, the World Health Organization released the State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020.

The report provides a global picture of the nursing workforce and recommends evidence-based planning to overcome global shortages in nursing. The report sets the agenda for data collection, policy dialogue, research and advocacy, and investment in the health workforce for generations to come.

A similar report on the Midwifery workforce will be launched in 2021.

The report, by the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Nursing Now, reveals that there are just under 28 million nurses worldwide. Between 2013 and 2018, nursing numbers increased by 4.7 million. But this still leaves a global shortfall of 5.9 million—with the greatest gaps found in countries in Africa, South East Asia and the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region, as well as some parts of Latin America.

More than 80 percent of the world’s nurses work in countries that are home to half of the world’s population. And one in every eight nurses practices in a country other than the one where he or she was born or trained. Aging also threatens the nursing workforce: one out of six of the world’s nurses are expected to retire in the next 10 years.

To avert the global shortage, the report estimates that countries experiencing shortages need to increase the total number of nurse graduates by on average 8 percent per year, along with improved ability to be employed and retained in the health system. This would cost roughly $10 USD per capita (population) per year.

Among the recommendations in the report to increase the number of nurses, WHO and its partners recommend that all countries: increase funding to educate and employ more nurses; strengthen capacity to collect, analyze and act on data about the health workforce; monitor nurse mobility and migration and manage it responsibly and ethically; establish leadership positions including a government chief nurse and support leadership development among young nurses; and ensure that nurses in primary healthcare teams work to their full potential, for example, in preventing and managing noncommunicable diseases.

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