World Health Day

Press Conference with the Minister of Health
Thursday, 6 April 2006

Lusaka, Zambia
6 April 2006

Honourable Minister of Health Sylvia Masebo,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning!

I am delighted to be here in Lusaka to mark World Health Day and to launch this year’s World Health Report.

The theme for this year’s celebration and for this year’s launch is “Working together for health”. We chose this theme to mark the extraordinary contribution made by health workers – doctors, nurses and midwives, as well as managers, hospital staff and public health officials.

Health workers care for our children, treat our sick and heal us if we are wounded. This is obvious to all of us, but it is also demonstrated in study after study. When health workers are present, children and women have a much better chance of surviving and living healthy lives. When they are there, health workers are truly heroes for health.

But the truth is that too often, health workers are not there. There are not enough health workers here in Zambia. A clinic has no nurse to give vaccinations; a pharmacy has no pharmacist and sometimes no medicines to distribute. Just as there are not enough health workers in many of the poorest countries in Africa and around the world where they are needed most.

Health workers have tough obstacles. The HIV pandemic that has swept this continent has killed many health workers; others are sick or have seen their colleagues or their families sicken or die. At work, many face empty store rooms, overwhelming numbers of patients, violence and low wages.

Those looking for a better life often find themselves tempted by the better conditions and salaries in wealthier neighbouring countries, or overseas. Most of the world’s health workers are concentrated in the wealthiest nations. For example, today one in four doctors who trained in Africa and one in twenty nurses is working overseas in rich countries.

This year’s World Health Report calculates that more than four million extra health workers are needed around the world.

Zambia alone needs to double the number of health workers you have today in order to meet the urgent health needs of your people. The Ministry of Health has developed a strategic plan which sets out how this can be achieved.

The plan includes better pay and improved conditions for health workers; increased supplies of medicines and equipment in public hospitals; and bigger programmes to train more nurses, doctors and other health workers.

The plan is clear. What it needs now is support and funding. The support already shown by the President and the Government is vital. Funding will need to follow; a combination of national budget and donor funds.

I am here today to say to poor countries: we will work with you to find better ways to train and retain your health workers. To build a stronger health system in Zambia and across Africa, we must keep more health workers here and make it worth their while to stay. To do this, you will have to spend more of your own budget on health.

I am here to say to donor countries: work with those in most need to help them keep their health workers at home. WHO urges countries to recruit responsibly and not to contribute to the "brain drain" of health workers from poor countries to developed ones. Donor funding is key to solving this problem. So too is working together to find solutions that benefit the workers themselves and all countries.

This World Health Report is an important step forwards. We have looked carefully at the size of the health workforce around the world and at the reasons why people leave their jobs to move abroad. Now we call on all countries to work together to find new and innovative solutions.

Tomorrow, on World Health Day, the eyes of the world will be on health workers everywhere, but particularly here in Zambia. We must celebrate the contribution that health workers make. And we must focus on how to help that contribution to continue and to grow.

Before I close I would like to thank the Minister of Health and the Government of Zambia for their achievement in HIV/AIDS and for putting more than 50 000 people on antiretroviral treatment in two years. This Herculean effort means that 50 000 people are now living because of the Government.

Thank you.