Ugandan Study: Need for Global HEALTH Act Greater Than Ever

Only 37% of Ugandan physicians are satisfied with their jobs and nearly half are at risk of either exiting the health sector or leaving Uganda entirely, according to a study published this year by the International Journal of Health Planning and Management. The study, “Satisfaction, Motivation, and Intent to Stay Among Ugandan Physicians,”?is co-authored by Emily Bancroft, a former Leland Fellow with PHR in the US and AGHA in Uganda. Dovetailing with PHR’s previous works on health worker shortages in Africa, the study’s results come from a sample group of physicians working in 18 public and private health facilities in Uganda?representing approximately 3% of Ugandan physicians. This study came about at the behest of Uganda’s Ministry of Health, which hopes to analyze how to implement effective policy reforms to strengthen and expand their health workforce.?Bancroft’s team, headed by long time PHR advisor Professor Amy Hagopian of the University of Washington, urges Ugandan policy-makers to intervene to stem the "brain drain" that is heightened by factors such as low wages, poor infrastructure and materials, few opportunities to progress within the medical field, and regional isolation for doctors outside large cities.14% of Ugandan physicians emigrate abroad, largely to four English-speaking countries—the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. This number is significantly lower than that of some other countries in peril. For example,?it is frequently said that more Malawian doctors practice in Manchester, England, than in the entire country of Malawi. Although Uganda’s health workforce shortage seems less drastic than Malawi's, the crisis is no less dire: in 2008, the study's authors estimated that there are only 2,500 physicians for Uganda’s 31 million inhabitants. Physicians, far more so than other Ugandan health professionals, were seen by Bancroft and colleagues as dissatisfied with their work and both ready and capable of vacating their posts if the opportunity should arise. Along with nurses, physicians are the group most heavily courted by international recruiters, which means many of the physicians Bancroft spoke with may already have found an opportunity to leave Uganda.The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have exacerbated the “brain drain” seen in Uganda and throughout Africa with “structural adjustment” policies that cap domestic health expenditures. Wealthy countries can offer doctors higher salaries, greater career advancement opportunities, and, in many cases, a more stable political environment in which to work.The Global HEALTH Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee in March 2010, would assist Uganda’s efforts and help curtail health workforce shortages in countries facing similar crises by providing $2 billion over five years to increase the number of physicians, nurses, and other health workers in developing countries—and to help retain those health workers already there. The bill not only authorizes new resources, it also calls for the creation of a US Global Health Strategy to complement the goals of countries like Uganda and ensure US aid money goes where it can make a difference. This study will help foreign aid innovations like the Global HEALTH Act to better tackle complex problems like brain drain and to work with communities to solve these challenges—something PHR is dedicated to helping support.

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