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WHO Delegations Unanimously Adopt Historic Global Code to Monitor Health Worker Migration

May 21, 2010  • Aspen Global Health and Development

The WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel was adopted by the 63rd World Health Assembly on 21 May 2010. The adoption of this Code, after lengthy drafting group discussions, was both swift and unanimous: many WHO Member States stood to applaud the passage of the text.

The Code, which is voluntary in nature, serves as an ethical framework to guide Member States in the recruitment of health workers. Destination countries are encouraged to collaborate with source countries to sustain health human resources development and training as appropriate. Member States should discourage active recruitment of health personnel from developing countries facing critical shortages of health workers. Member States are encouraged to publicize and implement the code in collaboration with all stakeholders, and they should periodically report the measures taken, results achieved, difficulties encountered and lessons learnt. This is only the second Code in WHO’s history, after the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in 1981.” See the WHO website for an archive of drafts and documents leading to the final Code adopted by the 63rd WHA.

Since its inception, the Health Worker Migration Global Policy Advisory Council, along with its partners, has supported the development, adoption, and prospective implementation of a substantive WHO Global Code Of Practice. Highlights of the Council’s work during this time include:

  • February 2008: Council Secretariat Director Peggy Clark and Council Co-Chair Mary Robinson write an article in the Lancet urging innovative solutions like the draft Code and bilateral agreements as tools to help lower income countries strengthen and increase their health workforce, and to guide higher income countries to recruit ethically and take responsibility to increase their own health worker training and placement
  • October 2008: Recommendations Report to the WHO Secretariat reflecting Council consultations on potential Code revisions
  • December 2009: Memo to the WHO Director-General applauding the new version of the Code and highlighting additional potential revisions for further strengthening
  • May 2010: Summary of potential ways forward on the Code to to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at its informal Stakeholder Listening Session in preparation for the WHA on Tuesday, May 4, 2010
  • May 2010: Council Co-Chairs Hon. Mary Robinson and Dr. Francis Omaswa write an article about the need for the Code, which is published in English in the Global Health Magazine and in French in in Switzerland’s French-speaking newspaper Le Temps.
  • May 2010: Memo to the WHO Director-General urging adoption of the Code at the 63rd WHA after the Council meeting in Madrid led to the first inter-regional consensus on the need to pass the Code
  • Jan 2012: Council Member Dr. Mubashar Sheikh writes on the commitment and action to boost health workforce in an article published by Lancet Vol 379 of the Lancet on January 7, 2012

The Council is now working to ensure the Code helps to mitigate the negative effects of health worker migration via successful implementation. For example, the Health Worker Migration Initiative co-sponsored a side event at the 63rd WHA, an open meeting by the to discuss the role of civil society in implementing the Code. The HWMI also produced Innovations in Cooperation: A Guidebook on Bilateral Agreements to Address Health Worker Migration providing concrete guidance on using bilateral agreements to better manage health worker migration.