Studying the Crisis in Human Resources for Health from the Health Labour Market Perspective

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The African Development Bank, the Global Health Workforce Alliance and the World Bank have embarked on a synthesis study of a new way of looking at the Human Resources in Health (HRH) crisis in Africa: the health labour market. The joint study will compile current knowledge and evidence, produce a synthesis and identify knowledge gaps on HRH in Africa from the unique perspective of the health worker operating within a competitive labour market.

The global crisis in HRH disproportionally affects Africa. Among 57 countries with critical shortages identified by WHO, 40 are in Africa. This critical lack of health workers is made worse by the high burden of disease on the continent. Africa has 25 per cent of the world’s disease burden but only three per cent of the world’s health workers. Health workers play a central role in health systems, in terms of service delivery and health outcomes, but also in terms of planning, financing, implementing and monitoring performance. All of those functions directly influence health and have direct financial implications. Over and above the health workforce salaries, incentives and the cost of training and development can cost on average 40 to 60 per cent of the national health budget in most African countries.

The joint study comes at a time where Africa’s health labour market has evolved rapidly into a complex and dynamic market. The old assumption that health workers are passive actors, inherently competent and motivated to serve the public does not hold in most settings. The health labour market approach considers health workers as what they mostly are: economic actors, with clear preferences and making informed tradeoffs.

The study will result in a synthesis report on the health labour market in Africa and will be disseminated at different events to share the lessons learned and raise our common understanding of the health labour market analyses tools and approaches. With the review of datasets and literature being carried out in September and October, the synthesis report is expected to be discussed at a regional HRH meeting in December 2012.

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