Global Key Message

  • Major reductions in premature deaths from cancer, and improvements in quality of life and cancer survival rates cannot be achieved without a skilled and supported cancer workforce with formalised expertise in all disciplines of cancer control and at all levels of health service.
  • Developing innovative education and training programmes for cancer healthcare professionals that build on existing materials, training networks and infrastructure is the best approach.
  • Sustained and accelerated progress towards universal health coverage must be linked with specific efforts to strengthen the health workforce.
  • Greater attention is needed to systematically monitor shifts in the character and size of the cancer workforce, to inform new and existing programs, and to advocate for policy changes to address workforce shortages.

The Facts

  • The world today is short of 7.2 million healthcare workers and without specific efforts to address this shortage, this figure will reach 12.9 million by 2035.
  • While progress is being made towards the basic threshold of 23 skilled health professionals per 10,000 people, there are still 83 countries that fall below this threshold.
  • The pool of skilled workers is also unevenly distributed, with high concentrations in urban areas and many working in the private sector rather than in public healthcare.
  • Whilst the largest shortages in numerical terms are expected to be in parts of Asia, it is in sub-Saharan Africa where the shortages will be especially acute. For example, in the 47 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, just 168 medical schools exist. Of those countries, 11 have no medical schools, and 24 countries have only one medical school.
  • Globally, a failure to take action to address shortages in cancer healthcare professionals will have a lasting impact on the accessibility and quality of care, with delays in diagnosis and treatment; care provided by inadequately trained professionals; fragmentation of services; and worsening of disparities in cancer outcomes.

Countries with a critical shortage of health service providers (doctors, nurses and midwives) Countries without critical shortage Countries with critical shortage Data source: World Health Organization. Global Atlas of the Health Workforce.

Meeting the Challenge

Target population: Investment in continuing professional development (CPD) to equip healthcare workers with the appropriate tools and knowledge to deliver best practice services across the cancer care continuum is vital. This includes building expertise and capacity amongst health professionals to recognise the early signs and symptoms of some cancers, as well as appropriate early detection measures; ensuring the safe and proper administration of chemotherapy and other cancer treatment modalities including radiotherapy and surgery; and delivering palliative care and pain and distress management, to reduce the morbidity and mortality of cancer in all populations.

Case Study

Download PDF