Strengthening the health workforce in Africa: a priority for the AfDB

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A critical issue for African countries “Human Resources for Health: foundation for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the post-2015 development agenda” was discussed among 2,000 participants from 80 countries at the Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health (HRH) which took place November 10-13 in Recife, Brazil. The conference was followed by a Board meeting of the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA) on November 14 to set up the future health workforce agenda, in which the African Development Bank is a member.

Government officials, Ministries of Health and Finance, civil society organizations, global health experts and frontline health workers, leaders from academia and policymakers gathered to discuss priorities for the post-2015 development agenda.

One of the key objectives of the one-week event organized by GHWA, under the patronage of the Government of Brazil, World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), was the announcement of new political commitments for HRH that will accelerate progress towards UHC, along with important opportunities to place the issue higher on the global development agenda.

“The global community needs to change its traditional approach to health workforce in a fundamental way. It is critical to adopt a comprehensive labour market approach to understand the market forces influencing both supply and demand of health workforce. This is particularly important to Africa with high disease burden and low density of health workforce,” said Agnes Soucat, AfDB’s Director for Human Development and Senior Board member of GHWA, who discusses this theme in her recent book The Labor Market for Health Workers in Africa: A New Look at the Crisis.

Soucat chaired the session on financing human resources, education, training and capacity development. With this unique gathering, Soucat presented the Bank's vision for the next 10 years to build human capital in Africa especially in the health sector, the labour market dynamics focusing on the health industry and the rapid growth of biomedical engineering and pharmaceuticals industries that need a new breed of highly educated and skilled professionals. Feng Zhao, Manager of the AfDB Human Development Department, presented his policy paper during the forum calling for a paradigm shift in global investments in health workforce.

Developing skills and using cutting-edge technologies to build human capital is at the heart of the AfDB’s Strategy 2013-2022 which aims at transforming the continent creating opportunities for inclusive and green growth.

Indeed, Africa’s health workforce crisis in many regional member countries is caused by deeply rooted problems of outdated curricula, poor remuneration and limited opportunities for career progress for workers especially in rural areas. Creating a new paradigm for Africa’s human capital as the most precious resource is one of the priority of the Bank’s Human Capital Strategy 2014-2018, especially in healthcare sector.

Over the last three years, the Bank has supported regional member countries (RMCs) build their health human capital. For example, in Uganda, the Bank supported a US $98 million project to transform Mulago Hospital, into a centre of excellence in health care service delivery and education and training for students studying health sciences.

Also, as the Africa’s pharmaceutical industry is experiencing unprecedented growth, the Bank has initiated public-private partnerships to help countries invest in skills development for this sector and to build the knowledge base needed to create jobs and sustainable growth.