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The staffing crisis in Africa
Trained health workers play such an important role in looking after the health needs of individuals, families and whole communities. Without skilled professionals blinding diseases would go untreated, and people would be unaware of correct health practises.
However in the developing world there is a desperate shortage of trained health workers. It is estimated that the world is short of over four million health professionals. Unsurprisingly the shortfall is in the poorest, most under developed countries. For example 36 of the 57 countries with severe shortages are in Africa.
The cause of the problem
Migration is a high profile issue: skilled workers leave poorer countries to work in the West where salaries are higher and working conditions are better. Although this is a contributory factor, even if everyone who had migrated were to return to their own countries there would still be an acute shortage.
Other reasons for the shortfall are a lack of investment from governments, meaning people are not properly trained and there's no emphasis on retaining staff. Salaries are also unreliable and not enough of an incentive. The few health workers there are tend to work in urban areas, and not out in rural communities where there is a huge need for services.
It's important to work with health systems that are already in place, and maximise what's already available. Such as recognising networks of traditional healers who already have access to, and the trust of the community. It's also important to get more services and skills from the health workers that are already in place. For example, in Sri Lanka Sightsavers has trained midwives in primary eye care - so their patients get a greater range of services.
It also requires a commitment from the international community. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has contributed £1 billion per year on health in developing countries for the last three years, and is likely to increase its commitment.
Sightsavers advocates with governments to try and get them to increase the amount of money they allocate towards eye care. We also support projects that train health workers, as well as projects which demonstrate the success of certain approaches to training. For example we pioneered the training of community volunteers to distribute Mectizan® to prevent river blindness. This has proved so successful it has been rolled out across much of Africa.