Utility of the Right to Health for Addressing Skilled Health Worker Shortages in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Document Type : Review Article


1 The George Institute for Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

2 School of Population Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

3 School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

4 Discipline of Paediatrics, School of Women and Children’s Health, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

5 Australian Human Rights Institute, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia


As a fundamental human right, the right to health (RTH) can influence state actors' behaviour towards health inequities. Human rights advocates have invoked the RTH in a collective demand for improved access to essential medicines in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs). Similarly, scholars have used the RTH as a framework for analysing health problems. However, its utility for addressing skilled health worker (SHW) shortages in LMICs has been understudied. Realising that SHW shortages occur due to existing push-and-pull factors within and between LMICs and High-Countries (HICs), we sought to answer the question: "how, why, and under what circumstance does the RTH offer utility for addressing SHW shortages in LMICs?"

We conducted a realist synthesis of evidence identified through a systematic search of peerreviewed articles in Embase, Global Health, Medline (Ovid), ProQuest – Health & Medical databases, Scopus (Elsevier), Web of Science (Clarivate), CINAHL (EBSCO), APAIS-Health, Health Systems Evidence and PDQ-EVIDENCE; as well as grey literature from Google Scholar.

We found that the RTH offers utility for addressing SHW shortages in LMICs through HIC state actors' concerns for their countries' reputational risk, recognition of their obligation to support health workforce strengthening in LMICs, and concerns for the cost implication. State actors in LMICs will respond to adopt programs inspired by the RTH when they are convinced that it offers tangible national benefits and are not overly burdened with ensuring its success. The socio-economic and institutional factors that constrain state actors' response include financial cost and sustainability of rights'-based options.

State and non-state actors can use the RTH as a resource for promoting collective action towards addressing SHW shortages in LMICs. It can also inform negotiations between state actors in LMICs and their HIC counterparts.


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Articles in Press, Accepted Manuscript
Available Online from 12 January 2022
  • Receive Date: 25 March 2021
  • Revise Date: 11 January 2022
  • Accept Date: 11 January 2022