37 of 55 countries facing health worker shortages in Africa: WHO

Shortage of health workers in Africa is predicted to reach 6.1 million by 2030

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Thursday 16 March 2023
Photo: iStock

Among 55 countries in the world facing a serious shortage of health workers, 37 are in Africa, according to the updated World Health Organization (WHO) health workforce support and safeguards list released March 14, 2023.

They include Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

These countries have a density of doctors, nurses and midwives below the global median (49 medical doctors, nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 people) and a universal health service coverage index below 55, the list noted.

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, according to WHO.

The global health organisation projected that the shortage of health workers in Africa will reach 6.1 million by 2030, a 45 per cent increase from 2013, when the last estimates were made.  

The shortages are threatening the countries’ chances of achieving universal healthcare by 2030, a key pledge of the United Nations-mandated sustainable development goals.

International health worker recruitment has accelerated as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread disruptions to health services, WHO said in a statement.

The actions of wealthy countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) came under scrutiny in the WHO alert.

To help countries protect their vulnerable healthcare systems, WHO has issued an updated health workforce support and safeguards list, highlighting nations with low numbers of qualified healthcare staff.

Apart from the African region, of the 55 countries, eight are in the Western Pacific region, six in the Eastern Mediterranean region, three in southeast Asia and one in the Americas, WHO said. 

The global health agency added eight countries to the list since its original publication in 2020.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on all countries to respect the provisions in the WHO health workforce support and safeguards list.

The list should be used to inform advocacy, policy dialogue at all levels and financing efforts in support of health workforce education and employment in these countries, WHO noted. 

The WHO health workforce support and safeguard list does not prohibit international recruitment, but recommends that governments involved in such programmes are informed about the impact on the health system in countries where they source qualified health professionals.

This issue will be discussed at the upcoming Fifth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health (April 3-5, 2023). The panelists at the conclave will examine the required policy solutions, investments and multi-sectoral partnerships to address health and care workforce challenges to advance health systems towards the attainment of universal health coverage and health security. 

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