I think the general perception of the human resource crisis in Africa is that there is a severe shortage of health workers. Like so many generalizations, this perception is too general to generalize to all of Africa.

In this month’s Human Resources for Health, Ummuro Adano from MSH provides a detailed description of the recent situation in Kenya and the response of the Kenya MOH and its partners to mobilize more health workers. The situation in Kenya is a good reminder that there is in fact a market for health professionals in African countries and that these markets behave in the same ways as other markets. Therefore, interventions must be designed with this in mind.

The Kenyan example highlights the importance of understanding the source of the imbalance between supply and demand. In Kenya, there is actually a relatively large pool of unemployed or underemployed heath workers (just not working as health workers). Despite this, and despite the fact that a long standing hiring freeze had limited the number of positions in the public sector, many posts remained unfilled. The cause: severe restrictions on the ability of the health sector to physically hire and pay workers. The article does not talk about whether or not the newly hired physicians received higher wages, but it appears that once these restrictions were removed there appeared to be little problem in actually hiring workers in the emergency hiring program.

As Ummuro concludes:

Most of the active roadblocks to changes in the health workforce policies and systems are ‘human’ and not technical, stemming from a lack of leadership, a problem-solving mindset and the alignment of stakeholders from several sectors.

There certainly will not be a single one size fits all solution to the human resource crisis in Africa, but general solutions will not likely work well in all countries.

Note: I helped myself to these photos from the MSH’s website.

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