Reducing shortage of nurses key to better respond to the next pandemic

Nurses of different ethnicities

PAHO urges governments to invest in more nurses, improve their education and expand their professional role in primary health care.

Washington, DC, 12 May 2023 (PAHO)- Between 600,000 and 2 million more health care professionals, including nurses, are needed to meet the health needs of the population of the Americas. On International Nurses Day, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) calls for greater investments to close this gap and ensure the Region has the personnel necessary to better respond to the next health emergency.

A well-educated, skilled and equitably distributed workforce is critical to building resilient health systems, meeting population health needs and better preparing for future threats and pandemics," PAHO Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa said.

During an event held on May 10 at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore (United States) to celebrate the international day, the PAHO Director highlighted the fundamental role played by health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and acknowledged those who lost their lives.

According to Dr. Barbosa, the investment made by countries of the Region in the health workforce to respond to COVID-19 was essential. However, the nursing workforce "continues to face challenges related to shortages, poor distribution and inadequate working environments."

Nurses represent 56% of the total health workforce in the Americas, making them the mainstay of health services. According to recent estimates, Latin America and the Caribbean has around 44.3 nursing professionals per 10,000 inhabitants, lower than the estimated 70.6 per 10,000 needed to meet the United Nations goal of universal health access and coverage by 2030.

To address the future needs of health systems, the PAHO Director called for a redoubling of efforts in three key areas: health financing, including education and retention of nurses; quality of education, to ensure that future nurses are well-trained; and expanding the professional role of nurses in primary care to reduce gaps in coverage and access.

"On this International Nurses Day, let us join efforts to work together to recover stronger and better from COVID-19, and make the necessary investments for the development of the health workforce throughout the Region of the Americas," Dr. Barbosa said.

The Nursing Situation in the Americas

  • There are approximately 27.9 million nursing professionals in the world, 30% of which are in the Americas.
  • In the Region, nurses account for 56% of all health professions.
  • 82% of nursing professionals are in Brazil, Canada and the United States, countries that account for around 57% of the regional population.
  • 89% of the Region's nursing professionals are women.
  • 43% of countries in the region have less than 30 nursing professionals per 10,000 inhabitants.