Working Together for Health: Preventing the Health Workforce Shortage

Tuesday, 28 March, 2006 - 10:13

This Friday, 7 April ’06, is World Health Day. The theme for this year is "Working together for Health.” The day is aimed at raising global awareness about the widespread shortage

This Friday, 7 April ’06, is World Health Day. The theme for this year is "Working together for Health.” The day is aimed at raising global awareness about the widespread shortage of health workers and the impact this has for people in need of healthcare.  

All over the world, healthcare systems are finding it harder and harder to train and retain their health workers. With countries like South Africa emerging as critical battlegrounds for chronic conditions such as HIV/AIDS and other related diseases, developing countries cannot afford to be short of competent health workers. 

In most developing countries, there is an ever growing demand for health workers. This demand results from the increase in population and the increase in chronic conditions. In response to this, development organisations are committed to combating this health workforce crisis. There is a growing consensus amongst health organisation that human resources are a vital part of improving African health systems and in ensuring the realisation of social change. 

Without a viable health workforce, health systems cannot hope to benefit the people who need healthcare the most. After all, the lack of health workers affects a country’s potential for future development and growth both socially and economically.

According to Marilyn Keegan, the Communications Manager for the Council for Health Service Accreditation of Southern Africa (COHSASA), “School leavers are having second thoughts about becoming nurses.” She maintains that school leavers are not drawn to this particular profession because, “It is not attractive enough.”

In her analysis of the shortage of health workers in South Africa, Keegan asserts that South Africa is not facing a crisis, but rather a shortage of available competent health workers. “Our main problem is that we train and export health workers.” The country’s health care system suffers as more and more health care professionals seek favourable conditions in more developed countries. 

In a letter released by the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in 2005, PHR HIV Policy Analyst argues that, “Africa needs a much bigger, better managed health workforce to make universal AIDS treatment possible and improve maternal and child survival.”

Although South Africa trains a substantial amount of health workers, they rarely remain within the country after they have acquired their skills. “The problem is that young people want to work overseas,” says Keegan.

As the world gets ready to celebrate World Health Day, people need to understand that people's health is important and that the lack of a viable health workforce threatens this very thing. Friday marks an urgent call of action to mobilise and to work together for the development of the health system. 

This article was produced by Badumile Duma, Information Coordinator, SANGONeT.

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