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AFRICA: Health worker crisis undermines HIV/AIDS efforts

The emerging crisis of health manpower in Africa could defeat the efforts of governments, private health care providers, NGOs, and donors in controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

This was one of the principal findings of a consultative meeting on improving collaboration amongst health professionals, government and other stakeholders on health workers issues, held by WHO and the World Bank in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last week.

Training programmes unsuited to changing health conditions, inadequate cooperation among the many parties concerned, and the losses of staff to opportunities in developed countries, had crippled Africa's health care facilities, resulting in a lack of qualified, motivated doctors, nurses and other health workers, a WHO press release said.

This situation had been made even worse by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which further reduced the availability of trained health workers by staff deaths and increased the demand for care, the release added.

Despite preliminary information that tens of thousands of African doctors and nurses worked outside the continent, and more were leaving every day, there was still a need to understand the situation by mapping out the pattern of movement, Dr Naeema al-Gasseer senior scientist of nursing and midwifery at WHO, told PlusNews.

"We heard a lot of stories at the meeting about the migration of health workers from developing countries to the developed world, but we still need exact figures," she said.

According to Gasseer, many governments had underestimated the impact of HIV/AIDS on health workers, and there was a need to strengthen and enhance infection control measures to ensure their safety. The provision of gloves, washing hands, and other basic universal precautions, were neglected by poor health care facilities.

Dr Laetitia King, a participant from South Africa, told PlusNews that a recent conference for nurses and health workers in South Africa had highlighted the need for more education on the impact of HIV/AIDS. Existing nursing curricula had to be reviewed and adapted to reflect the "absolutely devastating situation" of the pandemic, she said.

Speaking to participants at the meeting, Dr. Ok Pannenborg, director of the World Bank's work on health in Africa, placed the problem of African doctors and nurses in the global context of an increasingly flexible labor market, which facilitates migration of high level African manpower to other countries.

In some countries, the burden of caring for HIV/AIDS patients without adequate treatment had caused many poorly paid nurses to move into more commercially viable jobs. "We've heard of nurses who sell vegetables or become air stewards, just to make a living," said Gasseer

"Without urgent action there is a risk that the moneys soon to be committed in Africa by the new Global Fund to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria will not even have a serious possibility of achieving their goals," the WHO release said.

Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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