Address by Mr Ögmundur Jónasson, Minister of Health of Iceland,
at the Seminar of the World Medical Association (WMA):
“Human Resources for Health & the Future of Health Care”,
Grand Hotel, Reykjavik, 8 March 2009 at 9 am.
Dear Distinguished Guests,
It gives me great pleasure to address this first Seminar of the World Medical Association (WMA) held here in Iceland. The Icelandic Medical Association was one of the 27 founders of the Association back in 1946 and has been an active participant especially during the last decade.
It was an honor for Iceland and the Icelandic health care system to have Dr. Jon Snædal, elected as the president of the World Medical Association during the period from 2007 to 2008. He is the first Icelander who has served as the president of this Association. Dr. Jon Snædal is a good friend of mine and his dedication to his work is evident and is one of the reasons for why we are here today.
I am pleased to see that such a large group of health professionals have considered it worthwhile to come to our country and to participate in this seminar. I also welcome the large attendance, from Iceland. I can see from the list of participants that this meeting joins professionals from various fields of health.
Looking at the program I can tell that you will have an exciting agenda for the next two days that consists of presentations, roundtable discussions and workgroups.
You will be discussing mainly two topics, one of which is the critical shortage of health care professionals and how to react to that problem. I understand that this is the situation in more than 50 countries in the world most of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa, and in parts of Asia and the Americas. According to the World Health Organization there is a global health workforce deficit of more than four million people.
In response to this situation the World Health Organization has come up with "Task Shifting" where specific tasks are moved, where appropriate, to less specialized health workers, with shorter training and less qualifications or even to workers with no health training at all in order to make more efficient use of available human resources for health.
We are faced with a difficult challenge. On one hand I understand the frustration of health care professionals that fear devaluation of their education or profession, but on the other hand what options are there for countries that desperately need health care but do not have the qualified human recourses needed. Some countries are even able to educate what would bee seen as a critical mass of health care workers but then loose them to other countries with better work conditions and higher wages.
As I see it, task shifting alone will not resolve this crisis involving the health workforce. In my opinion it is very important that health authorities do not see this as a substitute for other investments in human resources for health.
I understand that task shifting is already being implemented to various degrees in a number of countries, and some forms of task shifting has been adopted informally in a response to human resources needs throughout history.
This brings us to the second main topic of your meeting and that is interprofessional relations.
In Iceland we have always been so fortunate to have well educated and progressive health workers. We have 32 different fields of health professionals, some of which have regulated areas of work. Therefore, I could see difficulties in moving some task between different fields of health professionals as they would require an enabling regulatory framework.
In Iceland we have not had much debate on this issue and most seem to be happy with the current arrangement.
But, here, as in some other countries, the role nurses for example has been extended in some settings to include the prescription of routine medication. In Iceland, Nurses are allowed to prescribe emergency contraception pill.
I would like to use this opportunity to thank all those who have organized this seminar. I have no doubt that this will be an exciting, memorable and fruitful seminar and that it will provide an active forum for presentations and discussions of “Human resources for health & the future of health care”.
And last but not least I hope you will have an enlightening and interesting time here in Iceland.
Thank you for your attention.
(Talað orð gildir)