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Senator Durbin and Others Introduce Bold Measure to Tackle Massive Health Worker Shortage in Africa, Fight AIDS

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) applauds today's Senate introduction of the African Health Capacity Investment Act of 2007, a bipartisan plan introduced by Senator Richard Durbin that would supply $600 million over three years to stem the flood of doctors and nurses out of African countries in the midst of the AIDS pandemic and other huge health issues. The bill's introduction is an important milestone in a nearly three-year effort spearheaded by Physicians for Human Rights and Health GAP to move the world to act on this problem.

"The United States has recruited thousands of doctors and nurses out of African countries—this bill would enable the next generation to treat their patients instead of our patients," said PHR Senior Global Health Policy Analyst and Global Health Workforce Alliance board member Eric A. Friedman, JD.

Initial co-sponsors of the bill include Senators Durbin, Coleman, Feingold, Dodd, Kerry, and Bingaman. 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. Some are 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, which was released at that year's Bangkok International AIDS conference. 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.

"The US and other donor countries have all recognized the health worker shortage as a major obstacle to better health in the developing world, not only affecting AIDS but also maternal mortality and other pressing health issues. Senator Durbin's bill, however, is the first major US initiative aimed at solving the problem," said Friedman.

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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