Lack of medical workers plague developing world
When her baby turned blue, Nivetha Biju rushed the child to the
emergency room of an Indian hospital and watched helplessly as the baby
lost consciousness because the nurses on duty had no idea what to do.
Eventually a doctor saved the baby's life, but many patients are not
so lucky in India and in other developing countries where a scarcity of
doctors and trained nurses means there is often no helping hand in times
"Health systems (in developing countries) are on the brink of
collapse due to the lack of skilled personnel," said Ezekiel Nukuro, an
official with the World Health Organisation.
"In some countries, deaths from preventable diseases are rising and
life expectancy is dropping," he said.
The health crisis in developing countries is, some experts say, being
exacerbated by the West as countries relax stringent immigration
regulations to attract doctors and nurses from less developed countries
to boost their own flagging health systems while saving money on
The consequences of this "brain drain" are grave as it leaves gaping
holes in the healthcare systems of developing countries where diseases
such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria run rampant and children die
daily from diarrhoea.
Aid agencies have warned that a European Union "blue card" scheme to
attract highly skilled migrants like hospital workers, which was given
initial backing by ministers this month, will worsen the already
debilitating brain drain.
Africa, with a quarter of the world's disease burden but only 3
percent of its health care workers, is the worst affected region.
International disease experts called earlier this year for the poaching
of African health workers to be viewed as an international crime.
Across the continent, AIDS patients are often left unattended for
days in rudimentary clinics staffed by a single overworked nurse and a
few untrained orderlies. Doctors often only visit once every few weeks.
"There is a clinic run by a nurse who is over 70 years old, and she
can hardly remember what she did with a patient yesterday ... and yet
she still runs the clinic because there is no one willing to work
there," said Dr Pheello Lethola, an HIV and TB specialist in the
southern African country of Lesotho, where almost one-quarter of the
population is infected with the HIV virus.
The lack of medical workers in Africa is most pronounced in regions
where AIDS is rampant as the disease has whittled away the ranks of
"A nurse taking care of 400 patients is paid $3 a day in Malawi, not
enough even for a bag of maize. So healthcare workers move overseas or
to private companies here," said Moses Massaquoi, a doctor with Medecins
Sans Frontieres in Malawi.
WHO experts said in a report in July that international aid to Africa
should be used to boost doctors' salaries and bolster recruitment and
The report also said efforts to connect African hospitals with
laboratories and experts abroad through the Internet and phone, known as
"telemedicine", might ease cost pressures in countries that lack skilled
personnel. In India, a country with the world's third highest HIV
caseload, patients may spend days queuing up for tests and drugs at New
Delhi hospitals as there simply are not enough doctors and nurses to
attend to them all.
"Many end up sleeping outside the clinics and we are now looking at
building shelters so people can come and stay," said AIDS activist Loon
Gangte, adding that some patients abandon treatment because the waiting
is too gruelling.