Humanitarian Catastrophe in Gaza


The Global Health Care Worker Shortage: 10 Numbers to Note

The world urgently needs more health care workers. Here are 10 numbers that tell the story of the crisis, the effects of COVID-19, and what will happen if timely action isn’t taken to close the gap in the years ahead.

By Emma Schwartz

A new baby in Sierra Leone. An elderly woman in China. A malnourished child in Venezuela. Without the right care at the right time, each of these lives has a high chance of ending before it should.

Health care is a fundamental human right — but without health workers, there can’t be health services. And the world has been grappling with a serious shortage of health care workers, even before the devastating toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the gap is already felt deeply in the most desperate situations, it is a threat to every country on the planet: Without more health workers, millions of people will go without the care they need to survive. That’s why training and equipping them is at the heart of our work at Project HOPE.

Here are 10 numbers that help to explain the magnitude of the shortage and what’s projected for the years ahead.

18 million

The number of health care workers in the world will be short by 2030.

The world will need 80 million health workers to meet the demands of the global population by the end of the decade — double the number of health workers that existed in 2013. But without intervention, we’ll be short 18 million, mostly in lower-income countries. Nurses make up half of that gap: The world needs an additional 9 million nurses and midwives in order to reach Sustainable Development Goal 3 of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.

Several key factors contribute to the shortages, including a growing aging population, an aging health workforce, rapid increases in chronic diseases, and the limited capacity of health education programs.

Health worker treats child in Moldova
A health worker from Project HOPE partner SAMU treats a Ukrainian child who crossed the border into Moldova. Humanitarian crises like the war in Ukraine exacerbate what is already a dangerous global health worker shortage. Photo by Jon Brack for Project HOPE, 2022.


The number of nurses for every 1,000 people in China.

That’s 30 nurses for every 10,000 people in the world’s most populous country. (For comparison, there are three times as many nurses for every 1,000 people in the U.S.) This ratio makes it nearly impossible to meet the demands of the country’s growing and aging population on any day — but it’s especially magnified in times of emergency.

In 2001, Project HOPE partnered with Wuhan University to educate a team of future nursing leaders in China. Together we formed the Wuhan University HOPE School of Nursing, offering China’s first-ever graduate and Ph.D. programs in nursing. When COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, nurses trained by Project HOPE were some of the first to treat the coronavirus.

Students at HOPE School of Nursing
Yufan Zhang, a student at the HOPE School of Nursing, with her peers in Wuhan. Nurses trained by Project HOPE were some of the first to treat COVID-19 when it emerged in Wuhan in 2019. Photo by Sean Gallagher for Project HOPE, 2018.


The number of health workers who could have lost their lives to COVID-19.

On the front lines of health emergencies, health workers are often the most vulnerable to infectious diseases when outbreaks strike. In the early months of the pandemic, health workers made up 14% of all new COVID-19 cases. It’s estimated that anywhere between 80,000 and 180,000 health workers died from the virus between January 2020 and May 2021.

Project HOPE has helped protect health care workers throughout the pandemic by providing the training and personal protective equipment they need to stay safe. In 2021, we delivered more than 18 million pieces of PPE worldwide. We also trained 63,000 health care workers and frontline personnel.


The percentage of health workers in the United States who have left their jobs since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the lives and health of health care workers around the world. In the U.S., 1 in 5 health workers have quit their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. Those that remain are stretched to their limits — 4 in 5 health workers say staff shortages have impacted their ability to do their jobs, and more than half of all health workers have reported feeling the mental health effects of the crisis.

In the shadow of COVID-19, Project HOPE is providing a lifeline of hope for tens of thousands of health workers around the world. Project HOPE’s mental health and resilience trainings will serve more than 50,000 health workers across five continents. The training has been translated into multiple languages with the long-term goal of providing training during other global health emergencies, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises, when support is needed most.

COVID-19 vaccine in Texas
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on health care workers around the world, with as many as 180,000 having lost their lives and more than half feeling the mental health effects of the pandemic. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2021.


The percentage of Sierra Leone’s health workforce that died in the 2014–15 Ebola outbreak.

The impact of disease exposure for health care workers is maybe nowhere more apparent than in Sierra Leone, where one-fifth of the entire health workforce died in the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Today, there are fewer than 250 doctors serving a population of around 8 million people, or one doctor for every 33,000 people — an alarming ratio anywhere, but especially in a country with some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. Most of these deaths could be prevented or treated with access to quality care.

Project HOPE began work in Sierra Leone following the Ebola outbreak and has focused on providing training for health workers and enhancing hospital facilities to save vulnerable mothers and newborns. In 2019 alone, 22,000 health care workers received the training they needed to save more lives.

Health workers in Sierra Leone
One-fifth of Sierra Leone’s entire health care workforce died during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Project HOPE has worked in the country in the years since to shore up health workers with training to improve the lives of women and newborns. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2019.

1 million

The number of nurses over age 50 in the United States.

The growing need for health workers is also felt in the U.S. In fact, it’s predicted that upper-middle-income countries will experience the highest growth in the demand for health workers, which is why it’s especially problematic that one-third of nurses in the U.S. will retire by 2030. Before COVID-19, there were already 1.2 million nursing vacancies to fill, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the shortage. The number of registered nurses nationwide has dropped by 100,000 since February 2020.

It should be hopeful that nursing is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country, but the nursing-education system hasn’t been able to keep up with swelling demand; in 2019, U.S. nursing schools had to turn away over 80,000 qualified applicants due to insufficient resources.


The percentage of health workers who are women.

Women make up nearly three-quarters of the global health workforce, but hold only 25% of leadership roles. These figures expose a significant gender imbalance in the workforce and disparities in health employment and education, and the pandemic could widen the gaps.

Inequity calls for action: we need more health workers, but we also need to promote gender equity and sustainability, with a focus on training and empowering the female health workforce.

Health workers administering vaccines in Texas
he vast majority of health workers are women, but when it comes to leadership roles the numbers are completely reversed. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2021.


The number of countries that fail to meet the most basic standard of health care workers.

The accepted universal standard is 23 skilled health professionals per 10,000 people. But only a little over half of the world’s countries meet the threshold. Countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and some in Oceania have the greatest shortfalls. Most preventable and treatable deaths take place in these countries, where health care is hard to access and people often go their entire life without ever seeing a doctor or nurse.

The global shortage of health workers is one reason Project HOPE has worked for more than 60 years to train and equip frontline doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel around the world. In 2021, Project HOPE trained more than 151,000 health workers worldwide.

Pediatrician in India during COVID-19
In India, Dr. Anita Verghese is the only pediatrician for all the 12 regional primary health centers in her area. During the country’s deadly second wave in 2021, Project HOPE responded with badly needed PPE, medical equipment, and oxygen to support India’s health workers. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2021.


The number of doctors for every 10,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa.

The shortage of nurses and midwives in the region is equally troubling: There are 10 for every 10,000 people (there are over 15 times as many nurses and midwives for every 1,000 people in North America). Far below the universal standard, the shortfall of health workers in sub-Saharan Africa leaves millions without access to basic services, maternal care, and treatment for communicable diseases, the region’s leading cause of death.

Project HOPE is focused on training health workers in the region, building their capacity to address the most pressing health challenges in Ethiopia, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, and Sierra Leone.


The percentage of doctors in the U.S. that will be over 65 and could retire in the next decade.

More than two out of every five doctors could leave the workforce by 2030 — and the increasing issue of health worker burnout could lead doctors to work less or retire earlier. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of anywhere from 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by 2034, underscoring the urgency to enroll and train more aspiring doctors before it’s too late.

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