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Africa, Parts of Asia, Face Critical Medical Shortages


In 2006, the World Health Organization issued a report that a critical shortage of doctors and nurses has contributed to severe health problems in Africa and parts of Asia. The report said at least four million more medical personnel were needed in developing countries around the world. Has anything changed since that report? VOA's Melinda Smith looks at the situation.

Lesotho is one of 57 countries around the world desperately in need of doctors and nurses. A recent report by the American broadcast network ABC says there are only six pediatricians in the country to care for an estimated 800,000 children.

Many of those children are sick with HIV or dying of AIDS.

A group of American doctors from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas are in Lesotho to alleviate the shortage of nurses and doctors. In the meantime, mothers of sick babies step in to help give the medicine.

At present Lesotho has one pediatrician for every 130,000 children. Motloheloa Phooko, Lesotho's Minister of Health, says most native-born doctors get their training elsewhere and do not come back. That, she says, has affected the standard of care, especially for very ill patients. "We are saying we will use whatever we can. And maybe one pediatrician educates 100 to 200 nurses."

One of the doctors from Baylor is Dr. Lineo Thahane. She is working at a clinic that Baylor established almost two years ago. She and the other doctors are trying to treat as many patients as they can, while training local doctors and nurses at the time. "We have the medications. They are distributed throughout the country. What we need is people who are comfortable administering those medications to children."

There are some success stories. One of them is two-year-old Lebohang Sekeleoane. While he is HIV positive, he has returned home and is doing well.

Another pediatrician from Baylor, Dr. Tony Garcia-Prats, is looking forward to the day when the foreign doctors will no longer be needed. "African doctors and nurses can take care of kids well. That is sort of our future goal, and training is a huge part of what we do."

The World Health Organization report called for a boost in the health care budgets of many of these countries -- from a yearly average of $33 spent per person to $43 per person. The WHO says spending more for basic medical care is a good incentive for local doctors to stay.

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