We need foreign doctors to fight TB

South Africa has a severe shortage of healthcare workers and the country’s high disease profile, which includes TB and HIV/AIDS, increases the workload on the already overburdened health professionals. This has a dire effect on the rights of rural communities to access healthcare as they have to stand in long queues to receive treatment and travel great distances to facilities.

South Africa ranks the third highest in the world in terms of TB burden (400 000-590 000), after India (2-2.5 million) and China (900 000-1.2 million). More than 70% of TB patients are also living with HIV (1). The country does not have enough healthcare workers to effectively treat HIV and TB. South Africa has an estimated shortfall of more than 80 000 healthcare professionals (2). Only three out of every ten doctors in the country serve the public sector ─ the rest work in the private sector (3). South Africa’s rural areas suffer the most ─ 43.6% of the population lives in these areas, but they are served by only 12% of the country’s doctors and 19% of its nurses (2).

Africa Health Placements (AHP), a social profit organisation, believes that recruiting foreign doctors can improve access to healthcare for millions of South Africans. The contribution of foreign doctors is vital in South Africa’s efforts to effectively treat TB. Recruiting foreign doctors should not be seen as a short-term solution. Foreign doctors can aid hospitals in becoming self-sustainable. If effective management is in place, foreign-qualified health professionals can be recruited. Once a contingent of foreign doctors is in place, local workers can be attracted more easily. With a team of experienced doctors on board, junior doctors will follow because they have the opportunity to be mentored. Management can focus on using the facility’s improved capacity effectively and a facility can become self-sustainable. Rural South Africa has much to offer to foreign doctors, including a far greater scope for gaining medical experience because of the country’s disease profile, the satisfaction of making a difference, and an unparalleled lifestyle experience.

AHP works closely with the Department of Health, the Health Professions Council of South Africa, and other bodies to find solutions for the challenges the public sector is facing. AHP has changed the face of public healthcare by placing over 2 500 local and foreign healthcare professionals in public facilities since 2005. This has made a significant contribution to South Africa’s response to its quadruple burden of disease, including TB and HIV.

Note that the above has been presented at the 3rd Southern African TB Conference, 12-15 June 2012, Durban.

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