Health workers’ shortage in Nigeria, others to hit 6.1m by 2030 – WHO study
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concerns over what it described as chronic shortage of health workers in Nigeria and other African countries, saying it is stifling health systems and undermining access to and provision of health services.
According to a study by WHO titled “The health workforce status in the WHO African region: Findings of a cross-sectional study” published in the British Medical Journal Global Health and which surveyed 47 African countries, shortage of health workers in Africa will reach 6.1 million by 2030. This represents a 45 percent increase from the last projections in 2013.
The study found that the region has a ratio of 1.55 health workers (physicians, nurses and midwives) per 1000 people, which 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.
The study noted that only four countries – Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa have surpassed the WHO health worker-to-population ratio.
It further showed that Africa’s long-standing health workers’ 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.
“There were approximately 3.6 million health workers in the 47 countries surveyed as of 2018. Thirty-seven percent of them are nurses and midwives, nine percent are medical doctors, ten percent laboratory personnel, 14 percent are community health workers, 14 percent are other health workers, and 12 percent are administrative and support staff.
“It is projected that the shortage of health workers in Africa will reach 6.1 million by 2030, a 45 percent increase from 2013, the last time projections were estimated,” the study read.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa explained that the severe shortage of health workers in Africa has daunting implications. She warned that without adequate and well-trained workforce, tackling challenges such as maternal and infant mortality, infectious diseases, non-communicable illnesses and providing essential basic services like vaccination, managing healthcare-related issues in Africa will remain an uphill battle.
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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 nurses.
To reinforce Africa’s health system, the study recommended that it was critical to address the persistent shortages and poor distribution of the health workforce. It added that 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,” it added.