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The health workforce is a key cornerstone in health systems, in providing both clinical care and preventive services. In addition, a skilled health workforce is essential for a well-functioning public health infrastructure to respond to disease outbreaks or disasters, and in ensuring that communities demand critical services. Many countries, especially low-income ones, are facing serious shortages of skilled health workers and the geographic distribution, recruitment, and retention of the health workforce are not aligned with the evidence-based needs. To address these challenges so that global health impact is achieved by increasing coverage to health services for communities and ensuring countries are prepared to respond to public health emergencies and health threats, integrated strategies must be developed and implemented to build, support, and sustain the capacity of the global health workforce, while addressing current challenges.

*Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this chapter are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


A workforce capable of contributing to a country’s health needs, including its public health system, spans personnel throughout the entire health system and public health sectors. It also includes people working in areas that cut across these sectors, such as those working in veterinary and animal health, community health workers, and biosafety and biosecurity functions. In many cases, staff will be working with counterparts representing other functions on collaborative teams that are able to address complex issues requiring expertise from a number of connected areas.

Health System Workforce

The health system workforce is generally comprised of medical professionals, primarily physicians, nurses, other clinical staff, pharmacists, and other allied health professionals providing primary healthcare services. This health system workforce is on the frontlines, and in addition to providing healthcare services for the sick will often be the first to detect a disease outbreak and initiate community response as it works to create resilient communities. The health system workforce will also be involved with disease-prevention efforts, especially those within health facilities and in the community. By adopting the practice of team-based care, each member of the health workforce can receive training to expand the scope of their duties, for example, nurses taking and recording blood pressures and authorizing prescription refills under physician oversight.

Creating resilient communities requires their engagement in making decisions about their health. Therefore, strong and sustainable relations between communities and the health workforce are required. Training the health workforce on how to engage communities, how to provide health information, how to understand and incorporate the specific social determinants of health in screenings and services, and how to detect and report population-based threats is needed. It is important to understand and analyze the health-related work of all workers in the health system to effectively respond to ...

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