4 April 2006
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has praised South Africa for creating a human resources plan for health care, saying it is a strategy other countries could find useful in their bid to stem the exodus of health workers to better-paying jobs in richer countries.
The WHO was briefing the media in Johannesburg on Tuesday ahead of the launch of its World Health Report 2006.
To be launched in Zambia on World Health Day on Friday, the report calls for innovative initiatives to improve efficiency in the areas of HIV/Aids, TB and other priority diseases, and in finding ways for health workers with limited formal training to carry out specific health tasks successfully.
Addressing journalists in Johannesburg, WHO assistant director-general Timothy Evans said the shortage of health workers in sub-Saharan Africa was among the most significant constraints to achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals relating to health.
These include reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.
Evans said the shortage of health workers in 57 countries was impairing the provision of essential life-saving interventions such as childhood immunisation and safe pregnancy.
More than four million additional doctors, nurses, midwives, managers and public health workers are urgently needed to fill the gap, he said.
“This shortage combined with a lack of training and knowledge is also a major obstacle for health systems as they attempt to respond effectively to chronic diseases, avian influenza and other health challenges,” Evans said.
“Not enough health workers are being trained or recruited where they are most needed, and increasing numbers are joining a brain drain of qualified professionals who are migrating to better paying jobs in richer countries.”
He said the shortage was most severe in sub-Saharan Africa, with 36 countries facing acute shortages.
While the global population was growing, the number of health workers was stagnant or even falling in many places where they were most needed.
According to the WHO report, at least 1.3-billion people worldwide lack access to basic healthcare, often because there is no health worker available.
Infectious diseases and pregnancy and delivery complications cause at least 10 million deaths each year, Evans said, adding that with better access to health workers this could be prevented.
To tackle this crisis, he said, more direct investment to train and support health workers was needed.
The report urges countries to improve working conditions for health workers and develop plans to train a health workforce for the future.
The report also calls for global cooperation and joint investment in research and information systems.
This includes agreements on the ethical recruitment of and working conditions for migrant health workers, and commitments from donor countries to help crisis-beset countries to improve and support their health workforce.