Shortage of health workers a concern

Editorial

THE shortage of healthcare professionals in rural communities is a global problem that poses a serious challenge to equitable healthcare delivery.
In Papua New Guinea, one of the main problems hindering the health sector’s development is that there simply are not enough medical professionals in the country.
And the lack of enough physicians in rural areas and in some regional centres is a concern that was highlighted at the medical symposium held in Madang this week.
According to the World Health Organisation, PNG has 0.58 health workers per 1000 people. The organisation recommends 2.5 health professionals per 1000 people solely to maintain primary care
The country’s low score is a reflection of the relative density of physicians in urban areas to the shortage in rural areas.
At the symposium, it was revealed that PNG has a ratio of one doctor to 20,000 people and that half of the total number of doctors were based in the National Capital District. Others are spread around the country.
The symposium was told certain local level governments, which had more than 20,000 people in the province, such as Gulf and Western, did not have any doctor.
Where is the health human resource plan to address this issue?
Provinces are actually competing for health human resources.
Maybe provincial governments can throw in a few financial incentives to get doctors into rural health-care.
One area to test, not sure if it will work, will be for local MPs to sponsor medical students from their rural areas who are more likely to return to their rural roots.
In rural areas, partnership with non-state actors is essential to improve access to and quality of health services.
Health indicators in PNG are poor, with infant mortality rates at 48 deaths per 1000 live births in 2012, and maternal mortality rate at 230 per 100,000 live births in 2010.
For many years, the PNG Government has been in partnership with the churches in delivering rural health services.
The rural development areas test the usefulness of other partnerships such as with the private sector.
As medicine has become more complex, team-driven and technologically advanced, the struggle to provide timely, evidenced-based, cost-effective and appropriate healthcare has become more the expected paradigm than it was in the past.
Healthcare is in a dire state, particularly for remote areas where it can take seven days to walk to the nearest urban centre for medical attention.
The situation had been made worse by a shortage of medicines and the departure of the local health worker.
It cannot be left to current providers to come up with a plan to improve access to healthcare.
The rural population of PNG want access to evidenced-based medicine and they care not who provides it, as long as it is up to date, timely and has positive outcomes.
Many of the challenges in healthcare provision are linked to obstacles in other sectors, such as transport, infrastructure, manufacturing, education and security.
The international community is contributing and playing its part to help PNG improve its healthcare delivery, facilities and services, but there is room for more activity, especially from the private sector.
Let’s start with government providing the environment and letting non-government content experts develop a business plan to make it happen.

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