Developing Countries Face Shortage of Medical Workers Trained To Treat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB, Reuters Reports
Many developing countries are facing a shortage of medical workers -- leaving health care gaps in nations with high HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis burdens -- Reuters reports.
Although Africa has 25% of the world's disease burden, it has only 3% of the world's health care workers, Reuters reports, adding that the continent also is most affected by medical brain drain worldwide. In addition, the continent's high HIV/AIDS prevalence has led to an even greater shortage of medical workers who have died from the disease. HIV/AIDS patients in Africa often use clinics staffed by a single nurse and a few untrained assistants, with a physician visiting once every few weeks, Reuters reports. "A nurse taking care of 400 patients is paid $3 a day in Malawi," a situation that leads many medical workers in the country to migrate abroad or work for private companies, Moses Massaquoi, a physician with Medecins Sans Frontieres in Malawi, said. According to Reuters, some international disease experts earlier this year called the recruiting of African health care workers by Western nations an international crime.
In India, which has the world's third highest HIV/AIDS caseload, people often sleep outside of health clinics while waiting for medications and tests, HIV/AIDS advocate Loon Gangte said. Gangte added that the challenge of obtaining care leads some patients to abandon treatment. According to Reuters, India has a significant shortage of medical workers, with one nurse for every 1,000 patients, compared with 11 nurses for every 1,000 patients in Europe. "Demand is greater than the supply," Sunita Maheshwari, a pediatric cardiologist in Bangalore, said.
Ezekiel Nukuro, an official with the World Health Organization, said that many developing countries are facing an increase in deaths from preventable diseases and a decrease in life expectancy. He added that the health systems in these countries are "on the brink of collapse due to the lack of skilled personnel." According to Reuters, some experts say the situation has worsened because of new immigration regulations in Western nations that allow medical workers from developing countries to migrate abroad for work. Some aid organizations have expressed concern that a proposed European Union "blue card" scheme, which in September received initial backing from ministers, would lead to a further migration of health care workers from developing countries.
Experts have said there "is no easy solution" to address brain drain, but retention strategies may reduce the problem, Reuters reports. "It would be impossible to solve or stop migration of health workers," Nukuro said, adding that "strong political and international commitment, innovative strategies ... partnerships and alliances and long-term investments" are crucial in retaining health care workers. WHO in a July report recommended that international aid to Africa should go towards increasing physician salaries and improving recruitment and training of medical workers. The report also suggested the use of "telemedicine" to connect African hospitals with laboratories and experts abroad through the Internet and telephones. In India, efforts have been made to reduce the burden on physicians by training housewives to provide medical advice and administer fever medicine, oral rehydration tablets and rapid diagnostic kits for malaria and pregnancy. Naresh Dayal, India's secretary of health, said this strategy is a "small intervention but it will have a big impact on reducing maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates." Similar programs are being implemented in some African countries, especially in rural areas, according to Reuters (Chandran/Tan, Reuters, 9/30).