A New Model of Health Workforce Training
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
A new model of health workforce training has the potential to be an innovative, cost-effective, catalytic initiative that can build national health systems, empower women and make itself obsolete in a decade.
Such an endeavour would align perfectly with the Australian government’s 2014 development strategy, which highlights performance, innovation, empowering women, value-for-money and extending Australia’s influence. Additionally, it responds to the emphasis in the government’s recent health strategy on building strong national health systems in the region, including through investments in health workforce training.
Many of the countries in the Indo-Pacific region have dramatic shortages of health workers (doctors, nurses and midwives) – below the 23 per 10,000 ratio regarded by the World Health Organization as the minimum needed to provide essential primary health care services (see note below). This means that these countries are less able to provide for the health of their people, leading to lower productivity, higher rates of preventable morbidity and mortality [pdf], higher risks of emergent infections, and less social stability. As noted in the new health strategy, “a region will only be as strong as its weakest link.”
As noted in an earlier post, the West African Ebola crisis highlighted the great weakness of health systems in developing countries: insufficient numbers of quality health workers where people live. Amidst low numbers of people being trained as doctors and nurses, and high numbers of trained health workers migrating to rich countries, the West African health workforce was dramatically depleted – thus opening a door for the epidemic and eroding gains in maternal and child health outcomes due to the loss or displacement of skilled health workers. Looking at the numbers in the table above, would countries in our region be able to respond to health challenges rapidly and securely without compromising their progress towards improved maternal and child health?
Over the past decades, one of the models of scholarship training preferred by the Australian government and universities (and those in many other countries including developing countries themselves) was bringing bright young students to Australia to study. Doctors, public health officers and other health workers spent time in Australian universities getting their degrees or further (non-degree) training in the form of short courses. Indeed, public health has been one of the more common degrees sought by Australia Awards recipients. (Conflict of interest declaration: I have taught a large number of Australia Awards recipients in the Masters of International Public Health program at the University of Sydney).