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Skills shortage in reproductive health in Africa

A shortage of skilled reproductive health specialists in Africa is leading to serious geographic health gaps and desperate (and potentially unsafe) health practices.

The South Africa Node writes,

"Dr Geoffrey Kasembeli says he worked almost seven years without a day off: that's how severe the shortage of obstetricians and gynaecologists in Kenya is. According to Professor Joseph Karanja of the University of Nairobi, Uganda and Tanzania each have around 200 such specialists for populations of 33 and 45 million respectively. Zambia has 50 for its 13 million people. Lesotho can boast only two or three for its nearly two million people. Karanja says the shortage of these highly-qualified personnel is exacerbated by the uneven distribution of the few who are available and the lack of specialists is leading to situations wherein general practitioners are performing caesareans. He adds that 'with so few specialists, it means women in rural and peri-urban areas have no access to a gynaecologist because the few who are available are concentrated in urban areas and they are expensive.'"

Implications

The South Africa Node emphasizes that plugging this skills shortage is essential for addressing reproductive health challenges,

"Only a tiny proportion of African women have access to skilled medical care for a wide range of reproductive health issues including cervical and uterine cancer. The shortage also impacts on reducing maternal and infant mortality rates. The shortage of healthcare workers is a global phenomenon. However, while wealthy Europe and the U.S. can afford to lure staff with lucrative pay, African countries often cannot compete and lose the limited numbers of trained personnel. Those willing to work for government hospitals face long hours for much lower pay than is offered in the West or the private sector. If governments are serious about achieving development goals on maternal mortality and women's reproductive health, they will have to find ways to improve the numbers and distribution of skills in the public health service."

IFTF adds that in the short-term, finding a more efficient distribution of those existing specialists could help, and exploring options for distance medicine could make the most of health practioners who do not want or cannot afford to relocate to rural Africa.

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