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Health Worker Shortage is Major Obstacle

By Oxfam

Representatives of Oxfam International, Physicians for Human Rights and Health GAP today called the critical shortage of health workers in developing countries “a major challenge to meeting the promise of universal access to treatment.” They demanded massive new investment from government to train and retain health workers.

"Campaigns to fulfill the right to health have brought anti-retroviral medicines to hundreds of thousands of people. But without the health workers and health systems to administer these medicines, that right remains unrealized for millions more," said Leonard Rubenstein, JD, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights.

“The developing world lacks at least a million qualified health professionals right now,” said Dr. Mohga Kamal-Yanni of Oxfam International. “Yet Africa is likely to lose 20 per cent of its health workers to AIDS over the coming few years. And many more will migrate in search of better pay and working conditions.”

Female health workers, who play a critical role in care for women, face especially difficult working conditions. According to the African Union, low-income countries are subsidizing rich ones to the tune of $500 million a year through the loss of their trained health workers.

Based on the WHO minimum standard of 2.5 health workers per thousand people, Oxfam calculates that 53 countries have fewer than half the trained health workers required and in 10 countries trained health workers can only cover 10 per cent of the population.

“Important initiatives to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, such as PEPFAR, cannot succeed while continuing to hire away public health workers from a pool that is too small,” said Paul Davis, director of U.S. government relations for Health GAP. “Donors must work with developing countries to dramatically increase the supply of health workers and provide living-wage salaries so they will stay where they are desperately needed.”

"We need a U.S. plan for addressing this dire need,” said Leonard Rubenstein of Physicians for Human Rights. “PEPFAR’s recent report failed to provide the roadmap required by Congress to end Africa’s workforce crisis.”

The groups also called on African countries to allocate significant portions of their budgets to training and retaining health workers, particularly female health workers. African countries have yet to make good on their pledge to spend at least 15% of national budgets on health.

“Poor countries are hemorrhaging health workers,” said Oxfam’s Dr. Kamal-Yanni. “Unless donors make serious commitments to invest in health care workers, we will continue to lose ground against the epidemic.”

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