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WHO South East Asia J Public Health. 2018 Apr;7(1):13-17. doi: 10.4103/2224-3151.228422.

Pushing the boundaries of research on human resources for health: fresh approaches to understanding health worker motivation.

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Oxford Policy Management Ltd., New Delhi, India.
Independent researcher, Bengalaru, India.
Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
University of the Western Cape, Bellville, Cape Town, South Africa.


A country's health workforce plays a vital role not only in serving the health needs of the population but also in supporting economic prosperity. Moreover, a well-funded and well-supported health workforce is vital to achieving universal health coverage and Sustainable Development Goal 3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. This perspective article highlights the potential of underutilized health policy and systems research (HPSR) approaches for developing more effective human resources for health policy. The example of health worker motivation is used to showcase four types of HPSR (exploratory, influence, explanatory and emancipatory) that move beyond describing the extent of a problem. Most of the current literature aiming to understand determinants and dynamics of motivation is descriptive in nature. While this is an important basis for all research pursuits, it often gives little information about mechanisms to improve motivation and strategies for intervention. Motivation is an essential determinant of health worker performance, particularly for those working in difficult conditions, such as those facing many health workers in low- and middle-income countries. Motivation mediates health workforce performance in multiple ways: internally governing health worker behaviour; informing decisions on becoming a health worker; workplace location and ability to perform; and influencing willingness to engage politically. The four fresh research approaches described can help policy-makers better understand why health workers behave the way they do, how interventions can improve performance, the mechanisms that lead to change, and strategies for empowering health workers to be agents of change themselves.


health policy and systems research; human resources for health; migration; motivation; performance; supervision

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Conflict of interest statement

Veloshnee Govender is a technical officer at the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, which is an international partnership hosted by the World Health Organization

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