Background: In many developing countries, such as India, information on human resources in the health sector is incomplete and unreliable. This prevents effective workforce planning and management. This paper aims to address this deficit by producing a more complete picture of India's health workforce.
Methods: Both the Census of India and nationally representative household surveys collect data on self-reported occupations. A representative sample drawn from the 2001 census was used to estimate key workforce indicators. Nationally representative household survey data and official estimates were used to compare and supplement census results.
Results: India faces a substantial overall deficit of health workers; the density of doctors, nurses and midwifes is a quarter of the 2.3/1000 population World Health Organization benchmark. Importantly, a substantial portion of the doctors (37%), particularly in rural areas (63%) appears to be unqualified. The workforce is composed of at least as many doctors as nurses making for an inefficient skill-mix. Women comprise only one-third of the workforce. Most workers are located in urban areas and in the private sector. States with poorer health and service use outcomes have a lower health worker density.
Conclusions: Among the important human resources challenges that India faces is increasing the presence of qualified health workers in underserved areas and a more efficient skill mix. An important first step is to ensure the availability of reliable and comprehensive workforce information through live workforce registers.