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Inequities in the Global Health Workforce: The Greatest Impediment to Health in Sub-Saharan Africa
World Health Organization Country Office, Andrew Mwenya/Beit Roads, P. O. Box 32346, Lusaka, Republic of Zambia, Africa
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 29 January 2007; Accepted: 30 April 2007 / Published: 30 June 2007
Abstract: Health systems played a key role in the dramatic rise in global life expectancy that occurred during the 20th century, and have continued to contribute enormously to the improvement of the health of most of the world’s population. The health workforce is the backbone of each health system, the lubricant that facilitates the smooth implementation of health action for sustainable socio-economic development. It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the density of the health workforce is directly correlated with positive health outcomes. In other words, health workers save lives and improve health. About 59 million people make up the health workforce of paid full-time health workers world-wide. However, enormous gaps remain between the potential of health systems and their actual performance, and there are far too many inequities in the distribution of health workers between countries and within countries. The Americas (mainly USA and Canada) are home to 14% of the world’s population, bear only 10% of the world’s disease burden, have 37% of the global health workforce and spend about 50% of the world’s financial resources for health. Conversely, sub-Saharan Africa, with about 11% of the world’s population bears over 24% of the global disease burden, is home to only 3% of the global health workforce, and spends less than 1% of the world’s financial resources on health. In most developing countries, the health workforce is concentrated in the major towns and cities, while rural areas can only boast of about 23% and 38% of the country’s doctors and nurses respectively. The imbalances exist not only in the total numbers and geographical distribution of health workers, but also in the skills mix of available health workers. WHO estimates that 57 countries world wide have a critical shortage of health workers, equivalent to a global deficit of about 2.4 million doctors, nurses and midwives. Thirty six of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. They would need to increase their health workforce by about 140% to achieve enough coverage for essential health interventions to make a positive difference in the health and life expectancy of their populations. The extent causes and consequences of the health workforce crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the various factors that influence and are related to it are well known and described. Although there is no “magic bullet” solution to the problem, there are several documented, tested and tried best practices from various countries. The global health workforce crisis can be tackled if there is global responsibility, political will, financial commitment and public-private partnership for country-led and country-specific interventions that seek solutions beyond the health sector. Only when enough health workers can be trained, sustained and retained in sub-Saharan African countries will there be meaningful socio-economic development and the faintest hope of attaining the Millennium Development Goals in the sub-continent.
Keywords: Health workforce; human resources for health; health worker; crisis; skills mix
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Anyangwe, S.C.E.; Mtonga, C. Inequities in the Global Health Workforce: The Greatest Impediment to Health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2007, 4, 93-100.
Anyangwe SCE, Mtonga C. Inequities in the Global Health Workforce: The Greatest Impediment to Health in Sub-Saharan Africa. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2007; 4(2):93-100.
Anyangwe, Stella C.E.; Mtonga, Chipayeni. 2007. "Inequities in the Global Health Workforce: The Greatest Impediment to Health in Sub-Saharan Africa." Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 4, no. 2: 93-100.