Background: The availability of reliable and comprehensive information on the health workforce is crucial for workforce planning. In India, routine information sources on the health workforce are incomplete and unreliable. This paper addresses this issue and provides a comprehensive picture of India's health workforce.
Methods: Data from the 68th round (July 2011 to June 2012) of the National Sample Survey on the Employment and unemployment situation in India were analysed to produce estimates of the health workforce in India. The estimates were based on self-reported occupations, categorized using a combination of both National Classification of Occupations (2004) and National Industrial Classification (2008) codes.
Results: Findings suggest that in 2011-2012, there were 2.5 million health workers (density of 20.9 workers per 10 000 population) in India. However, 56.4% of all health workers were unqualified, including 42.3% of allopathic doctors, 27.5% of dentists, 56.1% of Ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and homoeopathy (AYUSH) practitioners, 58.4% of nurses and midwives and 69.2% of health associates. By cadre, there were 3.3 qualified allopathic doctors and 3.1 nurses and midwives per 10 000 population; this is around one quarter of the World Health Organization benchmark of 22.8 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10 000 population. Out of all qualified workers, 77.4% were located in urban areas, even though the urban population is only 31% of the total population of the country. This urban-rural difference was higher for allopathic doctors (density 11.4 times higher in urban areas) compared to nurses and midwives (5.5 times higher in urban areas).
Conclusion: The study highlights several areas of concern: overall low numbers of qualified health workers; a large presence of unqualified health workers, particularly in rural areas; and large urban-rural differences in the distribution of qualified health workers.