Brazzaville – A severe shortage of health workers in Africa is hampering access to and delivery of health services, even as countries in the region have made efforts to boost the workforce, according to a new study by the Brazzaville. World Health Organization (WHO).
The study, titled “The status of the health workforce in the WHO African Region: results of a cross-sectional study” published this week in the British Medical Journal Global Health and which surveyed 47 African countries, finds that the region has a ratio of 1.55 health workers (doctors, nurses and midwives) per 1000 people. This figure is below the WHO density threshold of 4.45 health workers per 1,000 population needed to deliver essential health services and achieve universal health coverage.
Only four countries (Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa) have exceeded the WHO health worker-to-population ratio.
The region’s health workforce is also unevenly distributed by country, ranging from 0.25 health workers per 1,000 population in Niger (the lowest in the region) to 9.15 health workers per 1,000 population in the Seychelles – the highest. high in the region.
There were approximately 3.6 million health workers in the 47 countries studied in 2018. Thirty-seven percent of them are nurses and midwives, 9% are doctors, 10% laboratory, 14% are community health workers, 14% are other health workers and 12% are administrative and support staff.
The long-standing health workforce shortage in Africa stems from several factors including inadequate training capacity, rapid population growth, international migration, poor health workforce governance, career changes as well as poor retention. health personnel. The shortage of health workers in Africa is projected to reach 6.1 million by 2030, an increase of 45% from 2013, the latest time projections have been estimated.
“The severe shortage of health workers in Africa has discouraging implications. Without an adequate and well-trained workforce, tackling challenges such as maternal and child mortality, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases and providing essential basic services like immunization remains an uphill battle,” said the Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Globally, the Western Pacific region – which includes Australia, China, Japan and Malaysia – had the highest number of doctors with 4.1 million and 7.6 million nurses in 2020, according to a report on human resources for health by the director general of the WHO at the 2022 World Health Assembly showed. The European region had 3.4 million doctors and 7.4 million nurses. By comparison, the African region had about 300,000 doctors and 1.2 million nurses.
To strengthen the African health system, it is essential to address the persistent shortages and maldistribution of health workers. Countries must dramatically increase investments to strengthen the health workforce to meet their current and future needs. Strong measures are also needed to boost the training and recruitment of health workers as well as to improve their deployment and retention.
Several African countries have made progress in bridging the gap, however, the WHO study released this week recognizes that addressing health workforce shortages remains challenging due to the complexity and scale of the problem.