Isn’t it time to care for the carers?

Authors: Dr. Fredrick Oluga & Amanda Banda

“Why do you work in healthcare?” Every health worker in the world has been asked this question at some point in their career or during their training. The default answer usually is that they want to help patients gain back their health and promote health in communities. Many health workers indeed have a special duty and determination to save lives and promote health. However, the health workers too ask themselves why they work in healthcare. Then it seems that the reasons are varied.

To some health workers, an experience with a sick loved one motivated their choice for a health career. Some found themselves choosing the career owing to their academic prowess in education, while yet others were influenced by a parent or a role model who was already a health worker. No matter the reasons, healthcare for health workers narrows downs to changing a life for better including the lives of the workers. And there is more. Working in healthcare comes with an unexplainable satisfaction for being dynamic.

However, most health workers are met with the reality of an environment that neither enables them to save all lives possible of saving nor supports their own lives as health workers. Globally, the consensus among governments’ policy makers and business leaders on the critical component of human resources for health in any health system cannot be underscored. But health workers across the globe feel very unimportant within the health systems. Furthermore, human resources for health do not receive the amount of investment that one would expect for such a critical health system component.

Attacked, depressed and burned out

Nurses in all countries feel the biting shortages that they have to contend with while providing care. Nurses in developed countries have been attacked by patients’ relatives for delaying to provide critical information or medicines. Doctors in developed and developing countries have the highest suicide rates, contributed by a lack of a debriefing mechanism and burnout at work. All health workers wonder: what do investments in human resources for health mean?

While training institutions are advanced in manner and content of teaching, health workers lack the finances and the support to acquire these vital skills. In low- and middle-income countries, training costs are not only a deterrence to quality health provision, but they also discourage policy makers from designing robust human resources for health development initiatives.

Excellent skills, yet unemployed in the home country

Even health workers who overcome barriers to acquire skills cannot be absorbed into the healthcare system. Nigeria, Ghana, Philippines, Sudan and Uganda have all had an exodus of nurses who cannot be employed within their own countries. Kenya, Zambia, South Africa have their specialist and general doctors migrating to the UK, Canada, United States, Australia because of poor treatment in their home countries. Ironically, Kenya and Zambia imported doctors from Cuba following in the steps of Brazil, Venezuela, and Japan.

These in-country actions have demoralized health workers and made them feel unwanted and unsupported within their own health systems. Investments in human resources for health must begin with making all health workers involved and included as part and parcel of health systems, and not merely a component described as critical yet ignored by policy makers.


Dr. Fredrick Oluga