A Projected Shortage of 800,000 Heath Workers

Last week, Health Affairs published an article that projected a shortage of 818,000 doctors, nurses, and midwives in 31 sub-Saharan African countries by the year 2015. To come up with this figure, the authors examined both the estimated health worker demand (1.163 million) and compared it with the estimated supply (371,000). When looking at these numbers, it immediately becomes clear why this article is garnering attention in the HRH field—the projected supply of health workers will only cover 32% of the projected need!

The authors of the study suggested that task-shifting could help to reduce the overall cost of addressing the shortage. (Task-shifting is the transition of health care tasks from workers with advanced training to those with a lower level of training—for example, allowing lay counselors rather than health workers to provide HIV counseling and testing).  A New York Times article (citing a different Health Affairs article co-authored by the Capacity Project’s own Fatu Yumkella) suggested that attending to issues of health worker migration and brain drain will also be critical in tackling this issue.

The article is drawing some much-needed attention to the global consequences of a health worker shortage. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that the lack of doctors, nurses, and midwives is a very local problem. If an individual requires health services but no one in her community is able to provide them, her well-being or even her life may be the cost. For this reason, careful planning and good management of the health workforce is imperative, not only at the national level, but also at district and facility levels.