The Need

No people = No healthcare

Where there are no healthcare workers, there is no healthcare delivery.

The shortage of qualified medical staff is a massive challenge in the provision of healthcare worldwide. A World Health Organisation report, entitled A universal truth: No health without a workforce, published in 2013, warned that the shortage of healthcare workers will increase to approximately 12.9 million in 2035. The current deficit is approximately 7.2 million.

This challenge is most profound in sub-Saharan Africa. The region has 20% of the world’s population but only 3% of the world’s health workers. Sub-Saharan Africa is burdened with the massive demand for chronic care imposed by the high prevalence of diseases such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and diabetes.

The shortage of healthcare workers in South Africa is no better than some of the worst affected African countries. In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing public healthcare today is the shortage of healthcare workers. According to the WHO report South Africa’s health system is “characterised by entrenched maldistribution of resources dating back to the apartheid era, and with inefficiency and inequity that contribute to falling short of the health Millennium Development Goals... Despite some good progress, availability and accessibility still present challenges”.

According to South Africa’s Department of Health, the country had an estimated shortfall of approximately 80 000 healthcare professionals in 2011. In 2015, this shortage is predicted to decrease to approximately 66 000.  Even with this massive shortage of healthcare workers in South Africa, the private sector, which serves 16% of the country’s population, enjoys 70% of the country’s doctors. The remaining 84% of South Africa’s population uses public healthcare. They languish with access to only 30% of the country’s doctors.

Rural areas bear the brunt of these shortages. The majority of South Africa’s public sector doctors work in urban centres. The result is that the deficit in health workers is most severe in rural areas where 43.6% of the country’s population live. However, only 12% of doctors and 19% of nurses work in rural healthcare facilities.

The statistics speak for themselves:

The country’s eight medical schools produce approximately 1 200 doctors annually. But, over their career, half of these doctors will move overseas.

This leaves about 600 doctors in South Africa.

Three quarters of these doctors will work in the private sector.

Only 150 doctors will be left to work in the public healthcare sector.

Of those remaining in public service, the vast majority will work in urban centres.

This leaves as few as 35 doctors from any single year of graduation to serve the rural areas of South Africa.