New Internationalist

Healthcare crippled

January 2009

The shortage of trained health professionals throughout Africa has become so acute that millions of people will never see a doctor in their lifetime – not even to certify their death. The 15% Now Campaign is pushing African governments to commit 15 per cent of their domestic national resources to health. Failure to do this, says the Africa Public Health Alliance – the organization behind the campaign – is equivalent to institutional manslaughter. Over eight million African lives are lost every year as a direct result of the shortfall.

The figures are staggering. Canada, with a population of 32.5 million, has 62,300 doctors, or one for every 520 people. Kenya, with a similar number of inhabitants, has just 4,500 doctors – one for every 8,100. Canada has 60,000 people living with HIV; Kenya has 1.3 million. And while there are just six maternal or childbirth-related deaths per 100,000 in Canada, in Kenya there are 1,000.

The campaign argues that there are two main reasons for the discrepancies. The first is brain drain. African doctors, nurses and midwives are tempted away from their own countries to practise overseas by better wages and conditions. The second reason is the difference in public spending. Canada spends 17.5 per cent of its budget on health; Kenya just 6.1 per cent. The Africa Public Health Alliance argues that the continent’s health crisis cannot be resolved until these issues are addressed. ‘Today the main factors responsible for this health tragedy are lack of foresight and political will,’ says Rotimi Sankore of the Africa Public Health Alliance. ‘We must find that political will if Africa is to survive and fulfil its great potential.’

Look out for the March issue of NI, which focuses on maternal mortality – in Africa and elsewhere.

This column was published in the January 2009 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 419

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