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Human resources for maternal, newborn and child health: from measurement and planning to performance for improved health outcomes

Neeru Gupta1, Blerta Maliqi2*, Adson França3, Frank Nyonator4, Muhammad A Pate5, David Sanders6, Hedia Belhadj7 and Bernadette Daelmans8

Author Affiliations

1 Health Workforce Information and Governance, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland

2 Making Pregnancy Safer, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland

3 Ministry of Health of Brazil, Brasilia, Brazil

4 Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Division, Ghana Health Service, Accra, Ghana

5 National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Abuja, Nigeria

6 School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa

7 Partnerships Department, UNAIDS, Geneva, Switzerland

8 Newborn and Child Health and Development, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland

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Human Resources for Health 2011, 9:16  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-9-16

Published: 24 June 2011



There is increasing attention, globally and in countries, to monitoring and addressing the health systems and human resources inputs, processes and outputs that impede or facilitate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals for maternal and child health. We reviewed the situation of human resources for health (HRH) in 68 low- and middle-income countries that together account for over 95% of all maternal and child deaths.


We collected and analysed cross-nationally comparable data on HRH availability, distribution, roles and functions from new and existing sources, and information from country reviews of HRH interventions that are associated with positive impacts on health services delivery and population health outcomes.


Findings from 68 countries demonstrate availability of doctors, nurses and midwives is positively correlated with coverage of skilled birth attendance. Most (78%) of the target countries face acute shortages of highly skilled health personnel, and large variations persist within and across countries in workforce distribution, skills mix and skills utilization. Too few countries appropriately plan for, authorize and support nurses, midwives and community health workers to deliver essential maternal, newborn and child health-care interventions that could save lives.


Despite certain limitations of the data and findings, we identify some key areas where governments, international partners and other stakeholders can target efforts to ensure a sufficient, equitably distributed and efficiently utilized health workforce to achieve MDGs 4 and 5.