Stop poaching medical staff: WHO

WHO says the African and Asian nations are suffering from brain drain instituted by richer western and first world nations and that the critical shortage of medical staff is causing unnecessary disease and death across the two continents. The report also reveals that poorer African and Asian nations urgently need more than 4 million health professionals to fill in medical shortages in over 57 countries. Furthermore, it has come to light that at least 1.3 billion people have no access to even the most basic health care, more often than not because there is no health worker owing to the incessant poaching by richer nations. As a result, WHO contends that poorer nations are bearing the burden of disease and poverty, whilst pointing out that on average one in every four doctors and one nurse in 20 trained in Africa is working in developed countries. An estimated 34-percent of Zimbabwean nurses work abroad together with 29-percent of Ghana’s physicians. The WHO report also states that a quarter or more of all physicians in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States have been imported from other countries, especially poor African nations. Resultantly, essential life-saving measures such as childhood vaccination, pregnancy and maternity care, treatment for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) are threatened by the massive poaching exercise. WHO director-general, Lee Jong-wook says the shortage of health workers across Africa and Asia is critical and threatens to scupper the United Nations (UN’s) Millennium Developmental Goals (MDGs) which aim to halve poverty by 2015. Jong-wook warned that if urgent action is not taken now, MDG’s will remain an empty promise on the part of the UN and developed nations. Jong-wook called on increased spending on health and major improvements in the supply of medicines and equipment to affected nations. The worst hit nations, according to the report, spend an average of US$33 per person per year on health care, and that they need to up this amount in their annual budgets to at least US$43 per person in the next 20 years to effectively deal with the crisis. WHO assistant director-general, Tim Evans also said 57 countries across the globe were facing severe challenges in providing essential life-saving interventions such as childhood immunisations. The report also highlighted serious inequities in the global health care system, and warns that poaching of medical staff by rich countries is likely to exacerbate the devastating effects of health crises like AIDS, malaria and TB. Organisations to come under attack for precipitating the crisis include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which came under fire from the British-based Save the Children charity organisation for imposing spending restrictions on African governments, and as a result, preventing them from investing in health care. Save the Children reports that thousands of children across Africa continue to die daily from diarrhoea, malaria, measles ‘ primarily because hospitals and clinics suffer from under-investment. A report compiled last year by Save the Children and Medact charity estimated that Britain had saved ’65million in training costs for doctors and ’38 million for nurses it had taken from Ghana since 1999. This was backed by the WHO report which states that the Americas, which account for just 10 percent of the global disease burden, possess 37-percent of the world’s healthcare workers and spends more than 50-percent of the world’s health care budget. The US has more than half of all the world’s nurses and projects that it will need a further 800 000 by 2012, and that it cannot fill the shortfall with US trained nurses. This means it will continue to poach world healthcare personnel, from poorer countries. This is in sharp contrast to Africa, which has, 24-percent of the global disease burden but just 3-percent of the healthcare workforce and accounts for less than 1-percent of global healthcare spending. A study made by British based Oxfam revealed that the doctor-patient ratio in Zambia is 1:14000, while Britain has a ratio of 1:600. While acknowledging that healthcare officials are lured by prospects of more money to richer nations, and better working conditions, the WHO report states that rapid urbanisation and a demographic “youth boom” in many developing countries only serves to worsen the crisis ‘ set to be compounded the fact that richer nations intend to import more health care officials for their ageing populations. Instead the report calls for urgent investment in training, recruitment of extra health officials and the putting in place of lucrative incentives in countries where they most needed. WHO recommends that aid donors arrange immediate and longer-term financing of health-care training to help poor countries meet immediate threats such as the bird flu pandemic that threatens the entire globe. Furthermore, while charities have added their voice to the crisis by calling for aid for medical staff training.

April 2006
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