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Africa's Conflicts Worsen Health Worker Shortage

Health officials throughout Africa are meeting with the World Health Organization in the Republic of Congo, to discuss, among other topics, the shortage of health workers on the continent, especially in rural areas. Phuong Tran visits a hospital in eastern Chad and brings VOA this report from Abeche, Chad.

The World Health Organization's director for Africa, Angolan doctor Luis Gomes Sambo, said Monday that 36 African countries have a shortage of health workers. He said the problem persists despite governments' attempts to recruit more.

Paul Lusamba Dikassa, a World Health Organization director for West Africa, says violence from the region's many conflicts has increased the number of people needing medical care. But, it is the violence that also is driving the much-needed health care workers out of the country in search of better pay, work conditions and training.

"The issue of human resources is a big problem. We have not only problems of quality, that is qualified human resources, but also problems of quantity. There is the issue of migration," said Dikassa.

In eastern Chad, rural patients with no local access to medical care turn to city hospitals that are often too overburdened to treat them.

Victims from on-going interethnic violence along Chad's border with Sudan are referred to this hospital if they cannot be treated in clinics near the border.

Chad's rural population competes with victims of border violence, recent flooding, as well as common illnesses.

Abderrahmane Gueye is a 28-year-old Chadian man waiting in a dark hospital room for people to wheel away his wife, who died that morning.

Gueye says his wife's high fever and labor pain from her pregnancy started the previous day. He says they had to wait for the village's only truck to drive 60 kilometers from their village, Amzet, to the hospital in Abeche.

Gueye says his wife died shortly after arriving to the hospital. His child, who would have been his first, also died.

Most doctors at the state-run hospital have been on strike since May over a pay dispute.

On Monday, Chad's union leaders sent out a communique to all government employees that the months-long nationwide strike for public employees was suspended. But it is unclear how long it will take for workers to return.

According to the Chad health ministry, there was one doctor for every 27,000 residents in 2005. In rural areas, the average is one doctor for every 100,000 or more residents.

The World Health Organization says the shortage of health workers in sub-Saharan Africa is among the worst in the world. While it has 25 percent of the world's people suffering from disease, it has only three percent of the world's health workers.