LUSAKA (Reuters) – A critical shortage of doctors and nurses is causing unnecessary disease and death across much of the developing world as health-care workers seek jobs in rich nations, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
More than 4 million more health professionals are urgently needed to fill the medical gap in 57 countries, mostly in Africa and rural areas of Asia, the United Nations agency said in its annual World Health Report 2006.
"On average one in four doctors and one nurse in 20 trained in Africa is working in (developed) countries. Some countries have been hit harder than others, for example 29 percent of Ghana’s physicians are working abroad, as are 34 percent of Zimbabwe’s nurses," the WHO report said.
WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said the shortage of health workers in the developing world was critical and could threaten the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, a blueprint to halve poverty 2015.
"If we don’t take action now, the millennium development goals will remain an empty promise and there are many empty promises in this world," he told a news conference in Zambia.
"There is a need to increase spending on health and to improve the supply of medicines and equipment too," Lee said.
Worst-hit countries, which spend an average $33 per person per year on health care, need to boost their annual budgets to at least $43 per person within the next 20 years to tackle the crisis, WHO said.
"There is a shortage in 57 countries across the globe that is inhibiting provision of essential life-saving interventions such as childhood immunisations," WHO Assistant Director-General Tim Evans said.
The WHO report highlighted huge inequities in the global health-care system, which threatened to deepen as rich countries attracted doctors and nurses from poorer nations which bear the brunt of health crises like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
British-based charity Save the Children placed much of the blame squarely on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which it accused of imposing spending restrictions on African governments which prevent them from investing in healthcare.
"It is shameful that thousands of children across Africa continue to die every day from diarrhea, malaria and measles," Save the Children UK Chief Executive Jasmine Whitbread said in a statement