Kenya’s health sector ailing

October 12, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 12 – Kenya trains three times the number of health professionals it requires, yet the country faces a shortage of medical staff as they seek employment abroad, according to experts.

Global Health Workforce Alliance Executive Director Dr Mubashar Sheikh said on Tuesday that the shortage was due to the country\’s failure to invest in healthcare.

Speaking on the sidelines of a consultative meeting on human resource for health, he said there was need for government to give health workers incentives in order to retain them and curb brain drain.

"That\’s always a dilemma that on one hand we are complaining of the shortage of health workers but in a number of situations we are unable to absorb the qualified health workers," Dr Sheikh said.

"That shows the importance of regular and proper investment and it needs both internal and external assistance. The crisis is not only in terms of numbers but it is also in deployment, incentives (both financial and non-financial) and the working conditions," he stated.

Dr Sheikh said that new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines recommended that countries stop dependency on one category of health workers.

"One approach that WHO is recommending is to see which functions are being performed by various categories and how then they can be re-distributed to other categories," he said.

"There are certain functions which are supposed to be delivered by doctors but we know that there are no doctors in the rural areas so do we live with the situation or find a solution?" he posed.

He said that there was sufficient evidence showing that there were many functions presently being performed by doctors but could be shared with nurses and those of nurses could be passed on to others including the community health workers.

"There is a lesser possibility of doctors and other health professionals staying in the rural areas so we need to recognise community health workers as an integral part of the health systems but there is some resistance from the professional associations."

New Partnership for Africa\’s Development, NEPAD chairperson Professor Eric Buch said Africa was short of 1.5 million health workers to achieve basic healthcare which would impact heavily on the achievement of Millennium Development Goals.

The world standards, he said, dictate that 23 doctors, nurses and midwives should serve every 10,000 people but Africa was lagging behind at not much than four per every 10,000.

"We are all talking about the importance of reducing the devastating number of deaths of African mothers in child birth but if you want to do that you have to have the health workers to provide the care," he said.

"The mothers are dying of bleeding, they are dying of obstructed labour and unless you have the health workers who can diagnose the conditions and provide the care, you are not going to achieve the maternal health MDGs. The same applies to Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and to child mortality," Professor Buch stated.

Despite this shortage, Africa was losing large numbers of nurses to countries in the North, many of whom were actively recruiting the nurses.

"In fact we often talk about how much development aid Africa is receiving from developed countries but Africa is also giving development aid to industrialised countries because they are taking our nurses and doctors without having to pay for their professional education," he noted.  

This, he said, could only be solved if the African governments valued their health workers, created posts for them, offered them jobs quickly, improved the working conditions and improved their salaries.

"In many African countries, doctors and nurses are being paid less than what cleaners are getting paid in other countries," he said.

"We have to retain the graduates we produce. If all we do is produce graduates that we lose to rich countries then we will be in a much worse situation than we are today in a few years to come."


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