IFGH 2012: Malawi’s bottlenecks, digital content and health’s human resources crisis

February 7, 2012
At yesterday’s opening (2 February 2012) of the Irish Forum for Global Health 
IFGH) conference in a bitterly cold Dublin, Dorothy Ngoma, Executive director of 
the National Organization of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi, listed facts that 
certainly raised eyebrows in regards to Malawi and its health status.

By 2050, the population of Malawi is expected to rise to 45.2 million, a staggering
rise, one which would put incredible strain on the healthcare system and its 
workers. If one was to consider that today, on average, a woman walks 10km to her
nearest maternity unit just to queue up – three to four weeks in advance – to
deliver her baby; one can only imagine what maternity provision will be like in
2050. Ms Ngoma was emphatic; this needs to change and the best way to do so is via
changing how we manage human resources. Currently, there is one nurse per 3680 
people, nowhere near the recommended WHO ratio of 1:1000.

Considering only 10,000 nurses have been trained in the country since 1947, 
Ms Ngoma called for a doubling or tripling of intake to meet the demand of nurse 
provision. In terms of midwives, there are approximately 5,000 in total, well below
the 15,000 target estimates suggest the country needs.

With all this in mind, what can be done? While adjusting to the global financial 
crisis by recognizing the ‘bottlenecks’ such as a nursing shortage that comes due
to decreased funds would be a start. Following this, community and public 
sensitization on human resources for health, increased lobbying of MPs and further
advocacy and publicity will be required. To be frank, this has all been said 
before, but Ms Ngoma’s emphasis on the facts hit the audience today in a way that 
may not have happened before.

Following this, Mr Tom O’Callaghan, CEO of the iheed Institute, delivered an 
enthusiastic, light hearted presentation on innovative ways to mobilize a 
workforce. He highlighted how the skills of the ‘young technical workforce’ must be
utilized so that digital content and distance learning can be integrated into
health systems. Mr O’Callaghan argued that this fundamental shift will be key to
solving health’s human resources crisis.

In response to this, it was amusing to hear an audience member point out the age 
old fact; that this may be good and well but when it comes to human resources, 
doctors and nurses are the most stubborn to change. Having a medical background, 
I would agree, but what makes this all the more appropriate, was that this was all 
being said in the halls and lecture theatres of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Dr Kunal Patel
Key Correspondent
Email: [email protected]

Source: http://www.keycorrespondents.org/2012/02/03/ifgh-2012-malawi%E2%80%99s-bottlenecks-digital-content-and-health%E2%80%99s-human-resources-crisis/ 

This article was written as part of a series of articles written by the 
Key Correspondent Team (KC Team) who covered the IFGH 2012 International 

For more information on the KC Team click here: www.keycorrespondents.org


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