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Could pandemic prompt a ‘new partnership’ for global health care?

19 January 2021

Image shows front cover of policy brief document

A policy brief by two Open University social policy academics is at the forefront of an international campaign to improve conditions for migrant health workers around the world. 

Building Resilience across Borders, by Professor Nicola Yeates and Dr Jane Pillinger, makes the case for greater rights and protections for migrant health workers, coupled with more public investment to strengthen health care systems around the world.

Global health 'under-resourced and fragmented'

It was published by Public Services International (PSI), the global union federation representing health workers, and launched with a campaigning video on International Migration Day on 18 December.

The brief was commissioned by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and PSI in the wake of COVID-19, and is the first of its kind to examine comprehensively the issues the pandemic has raised for the global health care workforce, Professor Yeates said. 

“COVID-19 has highlighted how the global governance of health care is under-resourced and fragmented – for example, the WHO is responsible for health, the ILO for labour, the World Bank for development. 

“The organisations need to work more effectively together in the interests of protecting and supporting the global health workforce that is the backbone of health care services worldwide. 

“Our policy brief calls for a new partnership for global health, based on long-term public investment in high quality health services and rights-based migration policies for health workers underpinned by ongoing social dialogue. 

“Workers’ organisations have historically been excluded from global health policy so it is right that they be recognised as key partners in health systems strengthening.”

Richer countries should 'desist from recruiting'

The brief outlines a five-point action plan which argues for fundamental labour rights and protections to be extended to migrant health workers, many of whom currently endure low pay, precarious working conditions and discrimination. 

And it adds to calls for the WHO to strengthen its global Code of Practice on the Ethical Recruitment of Health Personnel, to promote fair and ethical recruitment, balancing the right to migrate with the collective right to health care and development. 

A core priority is to support lower-income countries in retaining their skilled health personnel and for richer countries to desist from recruiting those personnel. 

The policy brief is based on the critically acclaimed study International Health Worker Migration and Recruitment published by Professor Yeates and Dr Pillinger in 2019, and its robust research should add weight to PSI’s campaigning and policy advocacy.

The PSI was recently granted formal status as a consultative partner of the WHO, giving them a seat at the ‘top table’ of global influence and decision making. 

Time is right for reform

Professor Yeates is hopeful that PSI’s increased influence coupled with changes in the international political environment could pave the way for reforms in global health worker recruitment and migration.  

“With a renewal of commitment to multilateralism, whether on a global or regional scale, as well as the Covid pandemic highlighting the importance of international co-operation, it is an excellent time to push these agendas ahead,” she said.

“Health workers are the bedrock of strong, effective health systems, so the global governance reforms the Policy Brief set out will strengthen our health systems to the benefit of everyone, everywhere.”

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