If we are to improve the health outcomes for millions placed at a disadvantage simply because of their place of birth, we must start with those on the front line - investing in the doctors, nurses, surgeons, midwives and community health workers who dedicate their time to our health.
Fifty-seven countries worldwide suffer from a severe shortage of health workers. Of these, 36 are in Africa, which has just four per cent of the world’s doctors, nurses, surgeons and other health workers but bears 24 per cent of the global burden of disease.
Imagine the impact on your family if you had to share your doctor with 49,999 other people. This is not dissimilar from the situation for Malawians. In their country, the World Health Organisation estimates that there are just two doctors for every 100,000 people.
The result is reduced availability and affordability of healthcare, with thousands of men, women and children dying unnecessarily.
Why are the world’s doctors and nurses concentrated in richer countries?
There are fewer resources available to deliver high quality initial training and ongoing professional development in developing countries. VSO volunteers work in colleges, hospitals and other institutions helping train the next generation of health workers in these countries.
However, international investment in the training up the health workforce in Africa is undermined by the migration of doctors and nurses from the poorer countries in Africa to richer countries. This adds to the strain on services and lowers morale for those left behind.
Undervalued, underdeveloped, underpaid
VSO’s Valuing health workers research has revealed the immense challenges faced by health professionals in countries like Uganda and Cambodia and the reasons why many decide to leave behind family and home by emigrating for work abroad.
Chief among them is the pressure of working on crowded wards with few drugs and little essential equipment. Meagre salaries, limited opportunities for promotion or development and a general feeling of being undervalued are also recurring themes.
VSO uses its findings as the basis for advocacy work, advising governments what can be done to train and retain health workers, and address problems with infrastructure. You can learn more by downloading the Valuing Health Workers research executed in in Uganda [PDF], Cambodia [PDF], and Malawi [PDF] or our report on health worker migration, Brain Gain [PDF].
VSO : Championing health workers
Independently, as well as through its part in the Action for Global Health coalition, VSO champions health workforce issues at an international level and has contributed briefing and position papers including:
- Continuing Professional Development for Health Workers
- Community Health Volunteering
- Brain Gain: Making health worker migration work for rich and poor countries
- Valuing Health Workers Uganda
- Valuing Health Workers Cambodia
- Health Workers in Fragile States (Action for Global Health report)