Shortage of Health Workers in Developing Countries Impeding Fight Against HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria, WHO Report Says
A shortage of more than four million health care workers in 57 developing countries is hampering efforts to combat diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, according to the World Health Organization's World Health Report 2006 released Friday, Reuters reports. The shortage is seen primarily in Africa and rural parts of Asia, where many health workers are migrating to wealthy nations to seek jobs, the report finds (Shacinda, Reuters, 4/6). Countries with the largest health worker shortages include India, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, most of West Africa and Peru, according to the report. It also finds that there is an average of 2.3 health care workers per 1,000 people in Africa, compared with 18.9 per 1,000 people in Europe and 24 per 1,000 people in the Americas (AFP/Yahoo! News, 4/6). According to the report, one-quarter of physicians and one in 20 nurses trained in Africa currently work in 30 industrialized countries included in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (Higgins, AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/6). The report also says that sub-Saharan Africa, which has 24% of the global disease burden, has only 3% of the health care workforce worldwide and accounts for less than 1% of global health care spending. The Americas have 10% of the global disease burden, 37% of the health care workforce and account for more than half of global health care spending, the report finds (Reuters, 4/6). "Not enough health workers are being trained or recruited where they are most needed, and increasing numbers are joining a brain drain of qualified professionals who are migrating to better-paid jobs in richer countries," WHO Assistant Director General Timothy Evans said (WHO release, 4/7). The shortage also undermines efforts to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which include reducing poverty by half by 2015, WHO Director General Lee Jong-wook said (Reuters, 4/6). In addition, the report says at least 1.3 billion people around the world do not have access to basic health care, primarily because of the shortage of health workers (BBC News, 4/7).
The report outlines a 10-year plan to deal with the situation, including an increase in direct investment to train and pay health workers. It also recommends that half of all new donor funding for health directed to developing countries be used to bolster health care systems. In addition, the 57 countries with health worker shortages should increase their health budgets by at least $10 per person over the next two decades, the report says (WHO release, 4/7). Lee added that supplies of drugs and equipment also need to be improved (Reuters, 4/6).