global health

Feb 9, 2011

Yes, there is an international health workforce shortage. But there is also some good news…

As mentioned in a recent Cro

Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

As mentioned in a recent Croakey post, the international shortage of health workers was the subject of an international meeting held recently  in Bankgok.

While delegates heard much about the crisis in health workforce numbers, they also heard some uplifting examples of individuals making a real difference for their communities.

Thanks to Dr Kim Webber, CEO of Rural Health Workforce Australia, for bringing home some of these stories, to share with Croakey readers.

Kim Webber writes:

Last week I attended the Second Global Health Workforce Forum convened by the World Health Organization and the Global Health Workforce Alliance, held in Bangkok. The forum was convened in response to the ‘crisis’ in health workforce and the fear that lack of health workers puts meeting the Millennium Development Goals at risk for the developing world.

The forum was attended by many high level people from international health organisations, aid organisations and health ministries.

The main message from these groups was that we need more data and information and knowledge. It struck me that if we really do have a ‘crisis’ internationally with our health workforce, why the focus on data? I think we need to act now – yes we will make mistakes, but we will also make progress and learn and evaluate as we go.  It’s not enough to research health workers and count that as progress.

As well as the large organisations, we met and heard from amazing people who are working at the grassroots. It seems that real difference is made through the power of individual leadership to create change at a community level. I’ll give you some examples.

We heard from Leochrist Shali Mwanyumba, a young nurse from Kenya. Ms Mwanyumba moved to a hardship post in remote Kenya where she revived maternal and child care through outreach clinics. That meant driving to villages to meet and treat people, often in open fields, a church or under the shade of a tree. As a result of her dedication, the maternal mortality rate in her area has dropped significantly.

I was very humbled by the story from Dr Oluyombo Awojobi, a surgeon from Nigeria. Dr Awojobi wanted to give back to his country so established a rural clinic in a farming area.  He sent his children to the local school as he wanted them to befriend and understand the farmers and their families. Dr Awojobi arranged intensive tutoring for his children and set up a chemistry and physics lab in his home so he did not have to send his children away to boarding school. What an amazing commitment to his community.  Note – his children went on to become an engineer and a doctor!

Grace Allen Young spoke of starting her pharmacy career in a small rural community (as part of her heartfelt obligations to rural Jamaica). Dr Young then went on to become the Secretary of Health for Jamaica (showing that rural practice is not a dead end career!!).

For each of these individuals, the desire to make a difference came from within.

Like these developing nations, Australia is also blessed with many inspirational and committed health professionals, saving lives in rural and remote communities.

Yet we still have workforce shortages in rural and remote areas and in particular Indigenous communities. We need more health leaders with passion and commitment to work with communities who most need them.

Perhaps we could do more to encourage and support those people into our highly prized places at university? This would take quite a mind shift away from recruiting students who are likely to obtain the best marks (as some universities aim to do) and towards social accountability. But this seems to be a worldwide movement.

Individually, while health workers may not be able to relocate to a rural or remote area, they can support those who are there – by signing up for some locum work each year to give a rural doctor a break.

Individuals do and can make a difference.

For me – as CEO of Rural Health Workforce Australia – I commit to doing all I can to support those who do this amazing work at the grassroots.  By making sure I listen to what it is that they need – and responding to deliver it as efficiently and effectively as I can.

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