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African Union Holds Consultative Meeting on Health Workers

The World Health Organization says the most critical issue facing healthcare systems worldwide is a shortage of health workers. The WHO says 36 of the 57 countries where the shortage is critical are in sub-Saharan Africa.

A two-day consultative meeting on strengthening the health workforce in Africa begins Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. It is jointly sponsored by the WHO and the African Union’s Department of Social Welfare.

Namibian-born Bience Gawanas is the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs and co-chair of the Task Force for Scaling up Education and Training for Health workers. She told VOA the purpose of today’s meeting is to strengthen the health workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa so as to better handle crippling diseases.

“As you know, WHO set up a Global Health Workforce Alliance with the aim of redressing the health workers shortages across the world, in particular in Africa. And as part of that, a task force was set up for scaling up education and training for health workers. The consultative meeting basically is for us to present to the consultative meeting our draft report to get a wider input, to consult with key stakeholders,” she said.

Africa’s health workers shortage is compounded by intra-regional and inter-continental migration. The WHO estimates that 2.3 health workers per 1000 people are needed in order to achieve a modest coverage for essential health services.

Gawanas said the African Union is aware and concerned about the continent’s health workers brain drain.

“What we are saying is that the ultimate goal of ministers of health is to make sure that everyone should have access to a suitably trained and motivated health worker as part of a functioning health system. One of the problems that has been experienced across the world but in particular Africa is the question of the brain drain. Many of the health workers are leaving the hospitals and clinics. And to that extent the objectives of the task force is to look at ways of up scaling training and education for the health workers,” Gawanas said.

She agreed that training and education alone would not stop the health workers brain drain unless it is accompanied by decent pay for health workers.

“Obviously we are just a task force that focuses on education and training. There are also other task forces. But are very aware of the push factor. And the push factor is the way in which we reward our health workers. And to that extent we are saying that as much as we would discuss education and training, we also have to look at conditions of health workers,” she said.

Gawanas said the African Union realizes that the health workers’ shortage is a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-sectorial approach.

“As we say the health workers’ problem is a multi-faceted problem. And to that extent the consultative meeting includes not only ministers of health, but ministers of education, ministers of finance, ministers of labor so that the politics of the issue could be addressed because if you have the labor market, but you do not have the resources, then it does not really serve the purpose. So what we are saying therefore is that there must be a multi-sectorial approach,” Gawanas said.