A new report warns a serious shortage of healthcare workers in poor countries is having a deadly impact on their ability to fight disease and improve health. In its annual report, the World Health Organization says 57 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia do not have enough health workers. The agency is launching the report to coincide with World Health Day.
The World Health Report says at least 1.3 billion people lack access to the most basic healthcare, often because there is no health worker. It says the shortage is global. But those countries that have the fewest health workers are those that suffer most from poverty and disease.
The report notes shortages are most severe in sub-Saharan Africa. The continent has 11 percent of the world's population and 24 percent of the global burden of disease, but only three percent of the world's health workers.
WHO Assistant Director-General Timothy Evans says not enough health workers are being trained or recruited where they are most needed. He says the growing demand for health workers in developed countries is worsening this crisis. He says wealthy industrialized nations aggressively recruit doctors and nurses from poor countries with offers of better paying jobs.
"This growth of health systems and demand for health workers is pulling large numbers of skilled professional from developing countries, the so-called 'brain drain.' " said Timothy Evans. "We see that 25 percent, or nearly 25 percent, of doctors trained in Africa are currently working in OECD countries. For nurses, the figure is about five percent or one in 20."
The World Health Organization says the shortage of health workers in 57 countries is affecting the delivery of life-saving interventions such as childhood immunization, safe pregnancy and delivery services for mothers. It says many patients are not able to get the treatment they need for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Dr. Evans says, the health care workers that remain in poor countries tend to cluster in urban areas, leaving the remote rural areas desperately underserved. To keep healthcare workers at home, he says the WHO recommends countries create better working conditions, provide better salaries, improve medical supplies and safety, and create better access to treatment and care for workers.
"Secondly, to re-orient training so that it is sensitive to local needs," he said. "There is good evidence that if training is done in rural areas and draws on rural populations then you will retain the people that you train much more effectively."
The World Health Organization is calling for more direct investment in the training and support of health workers. It says the 57 countries with the most serious shortages must increase health-care spending by $10 per person, per year, by 2025.