WHO: Africa faces serious shortage of health workers
A serious shortage of health workers in Africa is undermining access to and provision of health services even though countries in the region have made efforts to bolster the workforce, a new World Health Organization (WHO) study finds.
The study, titled “The health workforce status in the WHO
African Region: findings of a cross-sectional study”published this week in the
British Medical Journal Global Health and which surveyed 47 African countries,
finds that the region has a ratio of 1.55 health workers (physicians, nurses
and midwives) per 1000 people. This is below the WHO threshold density of 4.45
health workers per 1000 people needed to deliver essential health services and
achieve universal health coverage.
Only four countries (Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and
South Africa) have surpassed the WHO health worker-to-population ratio.
The region’s health workforce is also unevenly distributed
by country, ranging from 0.25 health workers per 1000 people in Niger (the
region’s lowest) to 9.15 health workers per 1000 people in the Seychelles – the
highest in the region.
There were approximately 3.6 million health workers in the
47 countries surveyed as of 2018. Thirty-seven per cent of them are nurses and
midwives, 9% are medical doctors, 10% laboratory personnel, 14% are community
health workers, 14% are other health workers, and 12% are administrative and
Africa’s long-standing health worker shortage stems from
several factors, including inadequate training capacity, rapid population
growth, international migration, weak governance of the health workforce,
career changes as well as poor retention of health personnel. It is projected
that the shortage of health workers in Africa will reach 6.1 million by 2030, a
45% increase from 2013, the last time projections were estimated.
“The severe shortage of health workers in Africa has
daunting implications. Without adequate and well-trained workforce, tackling
challenges such as maternal and infant mortality, infectious diseases,
noncommunicable illnesses and providing essential basic services like
vaccination remains an uphill battle,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional
Director for Africa.
Globally, the Western Pacific region—which includes
Australia, China, Japan and Malaysia—had the highest number of doctors at 4.1
million, and 7.6 million nurses in 2020, a report on human resource for health
by the WHO Director-General to the 2022 World Health Assembly showed. The
European region had 3.4 million medical doctors and 7.4 million nurses.
Comparatively, the African region had around 300 000 doctors and 1.2 million
To reinforce Africa’s health system, it is critical to
address the persistent shortages and poor distribution of the health workforce.
Countries need to significantly increase investments for building the health
workforce to meet their current and future needs. Strong measures are also
needed to boost training and recruitment of health workers as well as to
improve their deployment and retention.
Several African countries have made progress to plug the
deficit, however, the WHO study published this week acknowledges that resolving
the health workforce shortages remains difficult due to the complexity and the
scope of the issue.