The Reasons for Africa’s Medical Staff Crisis

medical staff

In 2006, the World Health Organisation (WHO), published that Sub-Saharan Africa has 11% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s burden of disease, but only 3% of the world’s health workers and accounts for about 1% of global health expenditure. The current situation, bar a 1% population growth has remained stagnant since 2006. However, conservative estimates by the Population Reference Bureau forecast Sub-Saharan Africa’s population to double by 2050. With no cure for the current shortage of medical staff, healthcare workers, and health-care products, the burden of disease and preventable deaths will weigh heavy on healthcare systems in Sub-Sahara and the rest of Africa.

Corruption, mismanagement, current account deficits and lack of GDP growth prevent African countries from providing medical schools and medical training. The result is the physician-to-population ratio is between one and 18 for every 100,000 people, compared to the US which has 280 physicians for every 100,000 people. In addition, basic education is a problem as many African countries have a 60% illiteracy rate, which means the majority of the population does not meet the educational requirements to enter the medical profession.

According to a World Health Assembly report, the brain drain has cost Africa $2.2 Billion to educate doctors who emigrate to the United States, the UK, Canada and Australia. An example of this is Ghana, where research indicates 50% of medical school graduates emigrate within five years, and up to 75% within ten years. Faced with overwhelming patient numbers, meagre salaries, poor or unsafe working conditions, frequent power outages, interruptions in the supply of clean running water, and insufficient first aid supplies and technology, doctors and other medical staff have no choice but to leave Africa, or are actively recruited by wealthier nations.

The WHO estimates that there is a critical need for 2.4 million doctors, nurses, and midwives in more than 57 African countries. In addition, the lack of medical staff has replaced system financing as “the most serious obstacle” to realising the right to universal health and has been identified as the leading cause of preventable deaths in Africa. Despite international medical equipment suppliers and pharmaceutical companies donating equipment and drugs, the lack of skilled professionals to deliver these goods will continue to deprive people throughout Africa of their basic human right to healthcare. Like the majority of issues in modern society, the health workforce shortage faces numerous competing agendas. However, the reality is this is not a national or even an African issue, but rather a global one that requires African governments and the international community to work together to close the gap between doctors and patients.


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