Where there are no health workers,
there is no healthcare delivery.
Every year healthcare delivery advances in leaps and bounds. There is a lot of focus on getting the building blocks of better health systems – such as pharmaceutical distribution and hospital infrastructure – into place around the world.
But without people on the ground to deliver care, this counts for very little. In poorer countries a shortage of doctors means crucial skills and knowledge never reach those most in need, with devastating consequences.
An equation of need
Inequality by the numbers
The World Health Organisation estimates a current shortage of 7.2 million healthcare workers worldwide, and expects this to rise to 13 million by 2035. This shocking lack of capacity is not evenly felt.
In wealthier nations there are on average 2 doctors for every 1000 people; in resource-poor countries that figure can sit at a depressing 0.1. What this means is that the people who need a doctor most are also those most unlikely to see one.
Africa, for example, carries 24% of the global disease burden, but has only 3% of the world’s physicians.
The lived reality
Feeling the lack of skills on the ground
These are not just statistics: their reality is felt every day as healthcare facilities across the continent struggle under the burden. Mothers die unnecessarily in childbirth.
Sick children who with the right diagnosis might recover, do not. HIV and TB continue to cut swathes through populations while non-communicable killers, such as diabetes, are on the rise.
From area to area, community to community, the most pressing health issue changes. Each calls for particular skills. Getting the right doctors to the right places – and supporting them to do their best work – can mean the difference between illness and health, even life and death.
Caring for the carers
The other side of the coin
For doctors who choose to work on the frontlines of the struggle to improve global health, the stresses are multiple and varied. Long queues of patients, insufficient or inadequate equipment, professional and personal isolation – it can all add up. AHP understands this.
We also know that overburdened doctors burn out. Isolated doctors lose their will to serve. That is why an important part of the work we do is to make sure the doctors we place feel cared for and supported, both professionally and personally.
For us this is the other side of the challenge of care.
“The foreign-qualified doctors came with a purpose to help people. They are so passionate it is as if they were born here. They are very important to us as we are now also able to do outreach. Without them we would not be able to offer quality healthcare services”.
– Ms Tembeka Pencil, acting hospital manager at Madwaleni Clinic between 2009 and 2013