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Towards an equitable internship programme at WHO: is reform nigh?
  1. Ashton Barnett-Vanes1,2,
  2. Cheng Feng2,
  3. Maziar Jamnejad3,
  4. Jing Jun2,4
  1. 1Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK
  2. 2Public Health Research Centre, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
  3. 3 London, UK
  4. 4School of Social Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ashton Barnett-Vanes; ashton.barnett-vanes11{at}

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Summary Box

  • The WHO internship programme is one of the most high-profile junior professional training programme in global health, and previous findings have suggested the programme is inaccessible to young professionals from developing countries. However, the extent of this is unknown.

  • In May 2016, WHO published, for the first time, full statistics concerning Member State participation on the internship programme – they show that only 15% of interns at WHO headquarters were from developing countries; Africa and South-East Asia regional offices offer less than 4% of all WHO internships; and almost 60% of WHO Member States had no nationals participating in the entire programme throughout 2015.

  • The internship programme suffers from inequitable Member State participation, and therefore fails to build future global health capacity in young professionals from developing countries.

  • Reform of the internship programme should focus on overhauling the entire recruitment procedures; providing financial support to interns, particularly from low-income countries; and introducing a semi-structured curriculum to maximise the benefits of the internship.

The global health workforce is under immense strain.1 For example, Africa—a continent with one-third of the world's disease burden has only ∼3% of global health personnel.2 This year WHO launched its Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health3 (GSHRH)—calling for a redoubling of efforts to better train and equip the global health workforce in order to strengthen public health capacity; echoing the 2006 World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution ‘Rapid scaling up of health workforce production’ passed in 2006.4

In pursuit of these aims, WHO runs a range of external programmes to train public health professionals, including the WHO Fellowship Programme; and through partnership with over 700 collaborating centres—often at universities—in more than 80 countries. In addition to these external programmes, WHO also runs what should be an internal training programme for future public health …

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