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PHR Applauds Rep. Barbara Lee's (D-CA) Introduction of Bold Measure to Tackle Massive Health Worker Shortage in Africa, Fight AIDS

Senate Version Already Has Bipartisan Support

For Immediate Release

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) today introduced the African Health Capacity Investment Act of 2007 in the House of Representatives. The bill would authorize $600 million over three years to train new doctors and nurses in Africa and give them incentives to stay in their home countries to fight the AIDS pandemic and other pressing health issues. The bill has been picking up support and momentum in the U. S. Senate, where Senator Durbin introduced it in March. It is co-sponsored by 26 senators including Norm Coleman (R-MN), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Chuck Hagel (R-NE). Its introduction into the House is an important milestone in a three-year effort spearheaded by Physicians for Human Rights and Health GAP to move the world to act on this problem. The health worker shortage is viewed as a crippling impediment to providing lifesaving health care by top officials in the Bush administration, the World Health Organization, and at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

"The US is the first country in the world to consider legislation that would help train and retain African doctors and nurses. It will save lives and stretch US tax dollars by making sure that there are more nurses and doctors caring for patients who have HIV/AIDS and other diseases," said Pat Daoust, MSN, RN, Director of the Health Action AIDS campaign of Physicians for Human Rights.

"The U.S. Congress is poised to support the heroic effort of nurses and doctors on the ground in sub-Saharan African countries–now they must take the next step and swiftly pass the bill," said PHR Senior Global Health Policy Advisor and Global Health Workforce Alliance board member Eric A. Friedman, JD.

The problem is crippling health care in many African countries. In Uganda, hospitals have shut down for lack of a single health worker to care for patients, and in some areas a single doctor or nurse may be on call 24 hours a day and seven days per week to care for hundreds of extremely ill patients every week. In Ethiopia, there are only 2,000 doctors for 75 million people; this is comparable to 16 doctors in all of Washington DC coping with simultaneous pandemics of AIDS, TB and malaria killing hundreds of people every day. In fact, there more than 4,000 doctors in Washington, DC to care for its 600,000 people.

In addition to Rep. Lee, the bill's introduction in the House has been spearheaded by U.S. Representatives Donald Payne (D-NJ), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), and Jim McDermott (D-WA).

The full list of current co-sponsors: Howard Berman (D-CA), Julia Carson (D-IN), Cohen, Danny Davis (D-IL), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Mike Honda (D-CA), Jesse Jackson Jr (D-IL)., Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Adam Smith (D-WA), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

The bill would provide $150 million in FY 2008, $200 million in FY 2009, and $250 million in FY 2010 to pay for safer working conditions, training and recruitment of health workers (especially in underserved rural areas) and better health systems management.

The World Health Organization estimates that sub-Saharan Africa is suffering a shortage of at least 800,000 doctors, nurses, and midwives, and an overall shortfall of nearly 1.5 million health workers of all kinds. Many receive salaries so low that they cannot afford to pay for rent even in their home country, let alone support a family. In rare cases, they have been forced to live in their own examination rooms.

In 2004 Physicians for Human Rights and Health GAP started an advocacy campaign to address this problem and have been spurred on by our colleagues in Uganda and Kenya, where PHR supports large activist networks comprised of health professionals. PHR also wrote a seminal report in 2004 on the subject: An Action Plan to Prevent Brain Drain (see below), which was released at that year's International AIDS conference in Bangkok. Since then, PHR, Health GAP and their allies have educated the US Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, the Global Fund, leaders of G8 nations, and the U.S. Congress about the problem.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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