Nursing and midwifery

Fact sheet
20 May 2012

Key facts on nursing

  • The health workforce is often the largest expenditure within a health system.
  • It is one of the critical determinants of successful health system performance.
  • Nurses and midwives comprise the largest portion of the health workforce in most countries.
  • They deliver core services at all levels of the health system and across the continuum of care to promote health, improve patient care, service delivery and health outcomes.
  • Many countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region continue to experience nursing and midwifery staff shortages, inequitable distribution of capabilities and skill-mix imbalances.
  • Although progress has been made in a number of countries, the continued implementation of Human Resources for Health (HRH) policies and plans mandates strong political commitment and major sustained financial investments to support workforce scaling-up in key areas – principally employment costs and pre-service education.
  • Advanced practice nurses or nurse practitioners serve to meet the health needs of dispersed, remote and isolated populations in the small island communities of the Pacific where the shortage of physicians is acute.

WHO's response

  • WHO supports Member States in their efforts to provide high quality and universally accessible health services, to improve health outcomes, and to make progress in achieving global health targets such as the Millennium Development Goals, by:
    • providing uniform indicators, tools and information management systems to assemble data and evidence for monitoring nursing and midwifery resource levels, improving demand projections and loss forecasting; and optimizing workplace management;
    • coordinating actions to improve faculty capacities and quality of nursing and midwifery education to meet changing consumer and service needs;
    • strengthening the evidence base of nursing and midwifery through programme planning and policy-making, implementation and evaluation at all levels;
    • providing technical guidance for the implementation of regulatory frameworks, competencies, models of care and processes that ensure the safety of the public and support effective and efficient use of nurses and midwives; and
    • enhancing and sustaining partnerships and alliances to generate resources, build capacities and support nursing and midwifery development for strengthened health system functioning and service delivery across the continuum of care.
  • World Health Assembly Resolution 64.7 (2011) called for actions to optimize the contributions of nursing and midwifery in implementing national health policies and in achieving internationally agreed health-related development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration.
  • The WHO Nursing and Midwifery Services Strategic Directions 2011-2015 provides Member States and other stakeholders with an overarching framework and suggested assessment and evaluation indicators for strengthening nursing and midwifery services.
  • The endorsement of the Action Framework for Human Resources for Health for the Western Pacific Region 2011-2015 at the 2011 WHO Regional Committee Meeting represented a commitment by the region’s health ministers to implement intensified improvements to health workforce planning, education and management over the next five years. Key monitoring and evaluation indicators are included in the Action Framework.