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The poor state of human resources in the health care system came under the spotlight at a session at the People’s Health Assembly, a five-day international meeting currently underway at the University of the Western Cape campus in Bellville.
One of the greatest issues is doctors and nurses trained in Africa being lured to Europe and the UK that offer better pay and working conditions. “African doctors are ‘stolen’ by countries in the global north,” said Thomas Schwarz from Members of Medicus Mundi (MMI). “And that makes it a political issue that needs a political solution.”
He explained that the World Health Organisation developed a code of conduct on the international recruitment of health personnel, which was adopted by member states at the 63rd World Health Assembly in 2010. However, the code, which serves as an ethical framework in the recruitment of health workers, is largely being ignored by the global community who continues to recruit health care staff from low-resource countries. “The code is nothing more than a piece of paper,” said Schwarz.
Dr Uta Lehmann from the University of the Western Cape’s School of Public Health highlighted other human resource challenges plaguing the health care systems of South Africa and other developing countries.
The first, and probably also the greatest challenge is the lack of trained health care staff. The limited available human resources are also not equally distributed between metropolitan and rural and areas, with a higher concentration of staff in and around cities, but very few staff serving rural communities.
Adding to that, many South African doctors also choose to work in the private sector where they earn more money and work under better circumstances than doctors serving the public sector.
Other major challenges Lehmann highlighted were poor management and leadership in the health sector - which often leads to misappropriation of funds, medicine stock outs, and generally poor working conditions for staff – and insufficient training of health care workers.