Doctor-patient ratio in Ghana to worsen as financial crisis deepens

The doctor-patient ratio in Ghana is worsening and could deepen as a result of the global financial crisis. Ghana, like other developing countries could lose her health care professionals to other countries of the world that offer higher pays.

The World Health Organization has issued a warning for yet another dire consequence of the global economic crisis: the “severe medical workforce crisis” in Africa and Asia, is expected to get worse.

The most recent World Health Report from 2006 estimates that Africa and Asia togetehr lack more than 4 million health workers. The WHO-sponsored Global Health Work Alliance estimates that 1 in 4 doctors and 1 in 20 nurses will leave Africa to pursue higher-paying jobs abroad.

The repercussions for health worker brain drain are severe, especially in rural communities where access to medical care is limited. In Ghana there is only one doctor per 17,700 citizens — the majority of whom practice in the country’s two largest cities of Accra and Kumasi.

Recently news broke about pregnant women seeking help at prayer camps instead of attending hospitals for ante-natal care, and when some of them were interviewed they claimed they have no money to attend hospital, even though Ghana has a scheme that offers free ante-natal care to women.

In 2007, the British Government pledged a £42.5 million support for Ghana’s health sector and $6 million out of that amount has been set aside annually for the implementation of the scheme. Despite this development, it appears the lack of medical doctors in the health sector is contributing to inefficiencies in the sector which apparently is driving some of these pregnant women to prayer camps. While it is true that the factors contributing to the incidents of women turning to prayer camps include religious inclination and to some extent ignorance, poor flow of information, poverty and the impacts of socialisation within some communities, the lack of sufficient numbers of medical professionals in the system is also a factor.

The attrition rate among health professionals has been estimated at 3.7% for doctors, 0.07% of pharmacists and 4.2% for professional nurses and midwives.

According to Twum-Baah, 60% of trained Ghanaian doctors work outside the country.

Nyonator et al report that of the estimated 43,000 health workers that Ghana requires to meet the health needs of its population about 18 million in the year 2000, only 21,262 (2,211 doctors and 19,051 nurses) were available in the year 2000. That is a shortfall of 49%

A report in the Ghanaian Times of March 23, 2002 also indicated that it is believed that more Ghanaian doctors numbering 1,850 were working outside the country than the 1,600 at home in the year 2001 – and that was a reduction of the year 2000 figure by 611.

In an interesting twist, however, the economic downturn in Europe and the U.S. has driven many well-educated migrants to leave troubled financial hubs like London and New York City and return to their respective home countries in Africa and Asia — a phenomenon some are calling reverse brain drain. As reported in World Focus’ online radio show, “Though the U.S. has often been called the “land of opportunity,” the country is losing some of its top minds to companies overseas.“

It hasn’t hit the health sector yet, but reverse brain drain could help ease the heath-worker crisis. Perhaps a financial recession for some could prove to be a time to regain talent for others.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi with additional material by Cecilia Uddenfe

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