Health workforce shortage in Zimbabwe 'prime factor' in increasing cholera deaths, says WHO

30 JANUARY 2009 | GENEVA -- Alliance partner and member the World Health Organization (WHO), says health staff shortages are hindering the fight against Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic and calls for urgent measures to ensure adequate health personnel and services are available to the Zimbabwean population.

In a statistical update released on Thursday 30 January, WHO stated that deaths from the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe have officially topped 3,000, with more than 60,000 people infected since August 2008. " [The] vacuum in availability of national health staff is a prime factor in the increasing number of cholera sufferers dying," WHO said in its news release.

"Unless drastic action is taken by all players in this crisis, more Zimbabweans will succumb to the outbreak, and other countries in the southern African region will face the continued threat of spill over epidemics," said Dr Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises Cluster.

Dr. Custodia Mandlhate, WHO's country representative in Zimbabwe said relief efforts have been hindered by shortages of qualified staff in treatment centres and that WHO and partners are working to provide incentives to draw nurses and doctors back into service.

The cholera outbreak exacerbates already devastating shortages of health personnel in the country. According to WHO's 2006 World Health Report, Zimbabwe is one of 36 African countries facing 'critical shortages' of health workers which are hampering progress across the health and development sector.

In recent months, many state-sector health workers have left their positions over pay and other issues, shutting down most hospitals just as the cholera epidemic was gathering momentum.

The World Health Organization has called for a number of urgent measures needed to address staff shortages, these include mobilizing resources to pay thousands of Zimbabwean doctors, nurses and other health staff who have been unable to obtain salaries and have not had enough money for basic needs, such as buying a bus ticket to get to work.

The Global Health Workforce Alliance supports the call from the World Health Organization for immediate action and urges partners work together to help ensure the proposed emergency measures to address the shortages are rapidly implemented, as part of the wider effort to resolve the critical gaps in the country's health workforce.