(Befekadu Beyene) Ethiopia is undertaking practical activities that are geared towards accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the health sector. Nevertheless, Human resource for health (HRH) issues related problems like shortage and high turnover of Health workers has become a severe setback.
Statistics obtained from World Health Organization (WHO) sources indicate that HRH problem has become a serious concern in 57 nations across the world including Ethiopia. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is home to some thirty-six of those countries that face severe shortage of doctors, nurses and midwives. According to data obtained from the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, the number of doctors that are serving the nation is only 2,560. Accordingly, the national ratio between doctors and the population is 1 to 31,000 as opposed to the international notion of 1 to 10,000. Another problem that makes the situation even worse is high turnover of health professionals. Not less than 30 percent of health professionals migrate either from rural to urban areas, from government to private institutions, or to foreign countries for various reasons. To address those problems, the government of Ethiopia is implementing a strategy based on two key tasks, that is according to Berhanu Feyissa, Human resource development directorate director with the Ministry of Health.
The first task is about producing health professionals in abundance while the second one involves retaining existing ones. In a bid to accomplishing the first task, the government has raised the enrolment capacity of medical schools in the country to from only 205 to 1,500. As a result, in government schools alone around 6,000 students are currently attending medical trainings. Besides admitting undergraduate students to the field, there is also a plan to readmit graduates in natural science. To this end, new medical schools will be opened and hospitals will also be used as teaching centers.
While there is shortage of all sorts of professionals in the sector, that of trained midwives is the most pressing one and calls for immediate action, Berhanu underscored. Hence, the government is doing its level best to address the prevailing shortage of trained midwives in particular and that health professionals in general as a means to accomplishing the MDGs in the health sector. “Ethiopia has, in fact, won international recognition in terms of producing health professionals. The country has a comprehensive and integrated planning system. We have made a significant progress particularly with regard to generating mid and low level professionals,” said Berhanu. With reference to retaining health professionals, various incentive schemes have been introduced.
Moreover, fresh graduates are provided orientation on national vision and missions before they are assigned to their posts. “The government has issued rules and regulations that facilitate the setting up of private wings to government health institutions where the professionals could work at during their leisure time and earn additional income which we believe could cut back migration due to low payments,” Berhanu noted. This scheme of setting up private wings to government health facilities is under pilot implementation in three hospitals in Addis Ababa namely St. Paul’s, ALERT, and Princess Zewditu’s as well as in health institutions in Bishoftu and Adama.
Health professionals that were approached by ERTA while on such a duty at Princess Zewditu’s Hospital have expressed happiness over the launch of the private wing. “Though not as lucrative as working for private health institutions, this is really a good opportunity for the employees to work during their spare time and make money besides their small salaries,” said Sr. Emebet Desalegn, a senior dentist at the hospital. Dr. Tigist Dabesa, who joined the hospital only recently for her part wanders: “Why should I waste my time and energy going somewhere faraway while I can work in this same hospital for a short time and make good money?”.
General Manager of Princess Zewditu’s Hospital, Tesfa Hailemeskel also shares the idea that the opening up of the private wings is beneficial. In addition to cutting back employee turnover, they enable the public to get health service beyond working hours, he said. The private wing was introduced to avoid overcrowding and to retain professionals.