Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Why is Africa’s health sector lagging behind?


Patients lying on floor at Mulago Hosp.
Every year, over 300 medical students graduate from the five medical schools in Uganda. However, hospitals, especially the ones upcountry still complain about lack of doctors. The problem of lack of human resource at medical facilities is not only a problem in Uganda, but also, the rest of Africa.
During the second African Health Systems Governance Congress in Kampala, health experts put across some of the major issues that have forced the health sector to lag behind thus limiting the number of people that want to work in the sector.

Among these is professional insecurity. While addressing a delegate of health experts, Prof Miriam Were, a Kenyan public health advocate said: “People, especially the young professionals, are insecure. They are afraid of how they will survive in the health system and how they make themselves known thus they resort to other professions.”
Prof Were’s observation is proved true by the fact that people Like Peter Muhumuza who graduated from medical school in 2007 has resorted to business rather than working in a hospital or a health centre.
He explains: “I was afraid that it might take me time to be known by people that can fully trust me as their doctor. That’s why I started up a supermarket and I have no regrets.”
The professor also blamed the lag on lack of social support. She explains that so many health professionals want to join the field but because there is a lot of stigma in the health sector and yet there is no one to give them the moral support to join, they end up joining other professions.
Prof Lucas Adetokunbo, a Nigerian Medical Doctor and former professor of international health at the Harvard School of public health, says the lack of strong leadership has also hampered the health sector thus frustrating people from joining it.
To this effect, Dr Gilbert Mliga, the Director of Human Resources Development for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare Tanzania, says some ministers of health lack the capacity to advocate better health budgets thus leaving the ministry with a low budget that cannot fend for all health needs.
The poor pay to doctors in most African countries has also forced most of them to move to other countries for greener pastures. Dr Godfrey Sikipa, a Public Health Specialist and a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Zimbabwe Government explains, “African countries have failed to retain doctors because of the little pay.”
For the few that stay in their countries, some of them lack accountability for their professions. Prof Francis Omaswa, the Executive Director of the African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST), says some of the health practitioners work for a promotion without caring if they fulfill the oath they made as doctors. So, as a means of strengthening the health sectors of African countries, the health experts suggest the need for strong leadership in the health ministry to improve the whole sector.
Dr Sikipa explains, “There is a crucial need for capacity building of the ministers so that they can advocate health policies and better budgets for health. We also need to look at what those countries where our medical doctors ran to have so that we can adopt the same to retain our medics.”
He adds that African countries need to ensure that international health policies coming to Africa are positive and can lead to development of the health sector. Prof David Sanders, the Director of the School of Public Health at the University of Western Cape, said there is a need for more research on the health system so that we can have better implementation systems.
However, all the health experts at the congress agree that strong health systems in African countries will only come from strong health ministries
 Source: Daily Monitor

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