EU needs more health workers, the pandemic made that clearNadia Ilieva
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted many of the healthcare problems in the world, and specifically in Europe. And it's no excuse that this virus came as a surprise and there was no way we could be prepared. On the contrary.
The WHO Regional Office for Europe has already sounded the alarm that population growth, ageing societies and changing disease patterns are expected to drive greater demand for well-trained health workers in the next years. The findings of the WHO/Europe core health indicators suggested that health workers in the region may not be sufficient to cover the future needs despite the fact that the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years.
Health workforce imbalances and shortages are a major concern in the European Region, the Regional Office for Europe indicated again in February, ahead of the unexpected spread of the coronavirus. Simultaneously, inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries are large, it pointed out. There are five times more doctors in some European countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is of even greater concern, the data shows that some countries have nine times fewer nurses than others. Moreover, physicians are getting older, and nearly one out of three is more than 55 years old, the Office said.
Globally the WHO has said that there will be a projected shortage of 18 million health workers, needed to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
In the current emergency, European countries have begun to take urgent measures themselves. Medical students were fast-tracked into early service in an attempt to boost health systems across the continent that are struggling to cope with the outbreak. France has mobilised its military to help hospitals. Doctors from Romania, which has not been hit so hard, went to Italy to help their hospitals in the unequal battle with the pandemic. Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, responsible for Health and Food Safety, has noted that “EU solidarity has been tangible over the past weeks with Member States treating patients from their neighbours, even when stretched themselves.”
The coronavirus found Europe unprepared, but it is too late and trading accusations would be pointless. Most global experts now say that Covid-19 is not the worst disease that will happen to us. We have been warned. But will we take notice?