There is a worldwide shortage of health workers. The World Health Organisation estimates that 4.5 million more health workers are needed globally. In Africa, this shortage is particularly acute and 1.5 million health workers would be needed to provide just basic health services. Africa has 24% of the world’s disease burden, but only 3% of the world’s health workforce to deal with it.
It can be hard to imagine what this shortage means when you live in a country where visiting your doctor is a normal part of life. But the comparison is extreme. Most people in Malawi will never see a doctor. That’s because in Malawi, there are only about 265 doctors in total. That’s roughly 1 doctor for every 50,000 people. In the UK, we have over 165,000 doctors – or 1 for every 365 people. People visit their GP (family doctor) six times a year on average. There are even fewer specialist doctors in Malawi – for example, there is one neurosurgeon for the entire country. In one neurosurgical unit in London, there are ten consultant neurosurgeons. It is the same for nurses and allied health professionals. In the whole of Malawi, there are only 27 registered physiotherapists. Yet many of the population live with some kind of disability preventing normal functioning.
This shortage of health workers means that people suffer and die from treatable illnesses. Research has shown that the more health workers there are, the better the health of the population. That’s because healthcare is extremely labour-intensive. Unlike other industries, you need people in order to give vaccines, perform operations, help women give birth safely and to treat sick children. If health workers aren’t there, people will suffer and die from illnesses which can be treated easily. For example, in Sierra Leone, one woman dies from childbirth for every 50 births. In the UK, it’s 1 woman for every 8333 births. If there were more health workers, fewer women would die.
Many countries are now making a concerted effort to train more health workers. In Mali, the number of doctors graduating from the medical school there has increased from 50 to 350 every year. But many of these students are poor and struggle to get through these demanding courses.
This is where Medic to Medic comes in. We want more health workers to be trained, and particularly those from poor backgrounds. We help healthcare students to get through their course and support them in their early part of their career. Every extra health worker in these countries has a huge impact.
One doctor will treat thousands of patients over their career – that’s thousands of people not dying from treatable diseases, thousands of mothers not dying in childbirth and thousands of children not dying in their first year of life. So if you help us, you’re not just supporting that one student – you’re affecting all those potential lives.
"Doctors and Nurses" By BBC's Kill or Cure series