WHO Issues New Guidelines on Rural and Remote Worker Retention

The World Health Organization has published new guidelines meant to address the health worker shortage that plague rural and impoverished regions. In a July 2010 policy recommendation paper, the WHO offers recommendations to aid worker retention and attract new health workers to overlooked areas. Strategies include altering the ways in which students are selected and trained, as well as improvements in working and living conditions.The WHO explains that “a shortage of qualified health workers in remote and rural?areas impedes access to health-care services for a significant percentage of the population, slows progress towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals and challenges the aspirations of achieving health for all.” The WHO’s recommendations come at the request of global leaders, civil society groups, and Member States. WHO recommendations fall into four categories, with greater detail and context available within the body of the Report:

  1. EDUCATION RECOMMENDATIONSRecommendations include targeted admission policies to enroll students with a rural background (who are statistically more likely to then practice in rural areas), exposing students to greater rural field work, and locating schools and residency programs outside of major cities.
  2. REGULATORY RECOMMENDATIONSRecommendations include the creation of compulsory service requirements in rural and remote areas, educational subsidies offered with enforceable agreements of return service work in rural areas, and a focus on increasing the scope of medical practice in remote regions to increase job satisfaction.
  3. FINANCIAL INCENTIVES RECOMMENDATIONSThe WHO suggests “a combination of fiscally sustainable financial incentives, such as hardship allowances, grants for housing, free transportation, paid vacations, etc., sufficient enough to outweigh the opportunity costs associated with working in rural areas, as perceived by health workers, to improve rural retention.”
  4. PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT RECOMMENDATIONSRecommendations include improved living conditions for health workers and their families in remote locales, career development programs to help rural workers progress in their careers, and the creation and promotion of senior posts in rural areas so that advancing workers are not forced to leave their communities.

The WHO suggests policies should be implemented in conjunction with the country’s national health plan and should be guided by the concept of health equity. The Report states that some countries, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Mali among them, are already considering using WHO recommendations to inform their retention policy.As WHO guidelines have been disseminated, an August 14?article in The Lancet registered a first critique, underlining the roles of NGOs and INGOs in the internal brain drain within struggling countries. As an addendum to the WHO report, the article offers further policy recommendations, to be implemented in conjunction with WHO strategies.

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