Fourteen African countries kickoff HRH coordination consultation series
26 October 2009, Accra, Ghana -- Overcoming shortages of health workforce requires coordinated commitment and implementation from partners outside the health sector, declared participants of the first meeting on Good Practices for Country Coordination and Facilitation for Human Resources for Health, organized by the Alliance.
The meeting held at the La Palm Royal Beach Hotel in Accra was opened by WHO Representative to Ghana, Dr Daniel Kertesz, who noted the importance of the meeting acknowledging "the urgent need to improve the quality and the quantity of health workers in the African continent facing with tough challenges to achieve the health related Millennium Development Goals."
Many countries in the region, including Ghana, have chronically low numbers of health workers due to insufficient numbers of training opportunities, low salaries and harsh working conditions in the health service. Up to 30% of Ghanaian physicians are estimated to be working abroad.
Ghana is hosting the first consultation on good practices for country coordination and facilitation, which will be convened in francophone Africa and Asia over the next two months with support from the Alliance, WHO, and other partners.
'Health without health workers - war without soldiers'
In the keynote speech, the WHO Deputy Director-General, Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah underlined the critical need for greater quantity and quality of health workers. “We cannot imagine to win a war without having enough soldiers, and we cannot achieve good health without health workers," he said.
He noted the global nature of the crisis: although wider shortages of health workers are much more evident in 57 crisis countries, the root causes for such shortages also start in some parts of the developed world, where there is a lack of trained health workers. "The crisis doesn't start and end in Africa, it affects the entire world, including the US and the UK," he said.
Through his speech, Dr Asamoa-Baah emphasized 4 Cs: celebration, complacency, country and consultation. He acknowledged the global partners' collective achievement in placing the health workforce issue high on the agenda of summits such as the G8 and G20.
According to Dr Asamoa-Baah, the global momentum around the health workforce issue should be a cause for celebration. But we should be vigilant of complacency to act among high level leaders, as they busy themselves with newer issues such as H1N1, and greater challenges such as the financial crisis. Therefore, he said, it is key the issue remains on the agenda of policymakers.
However, we need to admit that many key aspects of the health workforce issues are regulated by non-health players, he added, underlining the need for country focus and consultation with multisectoral partners. For example, production of trained health personnel - a central issue to health workforce is a core business of the Ministry of education, rather than the health. Conditions in health workplace is often regulated by the government sector for public administration but not health ministry, he explained.
Convening 'un-usual suspects'
At the opening of the meeting, Director for Human Resources for Health of the Ghanaian Ministry of Health, underlined the need for sound policy on coordination. "We can not lay the blame on our health workers for migrating or refusing to accept challenging work conditions, when policy makers haven't done enough," he said. "Health sectors can develop viable solutions only by working together with partners across the government ministries and other sectors," he added.
Chair of the Alliance Board, Sigrun Møgedal agreed, " Health systems depend on health workers. Human resources for health is a complex emergency and it requires a multisectoral response. The Alliance is proud to create this opportunity by bringing partners who do not normally get together in one venue, fostering linkages and coordination across partners to discuss what can be done for health workers within countries, across sectors and stakeholders," she said.
Dr Mubashar Sheikh, Executive Director of the Alliance reminded the meeting participants of the global community's commitments in the Kampala Declaration and Agenda for Action. "We, the global and national partners collectively agreed that one of the persistent barriers in the implementation of the Kampala Declaration is a lack of common understanding and coordination at the country level," he said. "But good practices in countries also show that such barriers can be overcome. Therefore, it is an exciting and inspiring opportunity that we have today having the participation of multisectoral representatives from 14 countries at this consensus building meeting," added Dr Sheikh.
The Accra consultation is hearing from over 175 delegates from 14 African countries, representing a multitude of sectors: ministries of education, labour, finance and health, trade unions, health professional institutions, academia, private practitioners and multilateral organizations and donor agencies, presenting existing national coordination mechanisms, gaps and future needs. As part of the opening day proceedings, a number of countries gave presentations on their experiences of HRH coordination - including lessons learned and identification of gaps.
Over the remaining days of the meeting, participants will consult on the 'Human Resources for health: Good practices for Country Coordination and Facilitation (CCF)' document drafted by the Alliance - with the aim of greater understanding of the document and proposed coordination process as well as the development of country specific plans of action for implementing the CCF. Participants will also be presented with a number of tools and guidelines produced by the Alliance, designed to support countries in their coordinated HRH programme planning and implementation.