The World Health Organization WHO has published desirable doctor–patient ratio as 1:1,000. Yet, over 44% of WHO Member States reported less than one physician per 1,000 population. Zambia, like other low-middle income countries in the world, is working towards the attainment of universal health coverage and access to quality health care for all by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda.
According to the World Health Organization, the doctor-patient-ratio in Zambia is pegged at 1 doctor for every 12,000 patients – as opposed to the WHO’s acceptable standard of 1 physician to every 5,000 people. Data from the Ministry of Health shows that the estimated shortage of Doctors, Nurses and Midwives is about 14, 960. However, with projected population growth, the deficits more than double to 25, 849 by 2020 and more than 46, 000 by 2035. To enable the health sector attain the milestone of curbing the shortage of human resource for health capital development, one strategy is for public and private higher learning institutions to contribute to helping government realize the recommended goals. In line with the Zambia Vision 2030 and National Health Strategic Plan 2017-2021 of having a nation of healthy people and mission of providing equitable access to quality, safe, and cost-effective medical facility for all, attainment of such a vision requires a robust health care workforce to deliver the service.
At present, Zambia only has four government run institutions that train doctors, namely The University of Zambia, The Copperbelt University, Mulungushi University and recently opened Levy Mwanawasa Medical University. In addition, there are a few private universities such as Texila American University, Lusaka Apex University, Cavendish University and University of Lusaka, bridging the gap in the medical training sector and their output is not enough to reduce the deficit in the coming years. The total number of Health Professional graduates increased from 2, 246 in 2010 to 3, 539 in 2013.
A Dermatologist at the University Teaching Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity said she is in a department which gives her liberty to properly interact with her patients. However, she recalls how busy her time was in departments such as Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. Because of the number of patients she had to attend to, time to talk to her patients was limited. She says she had to attend to an average of about 30 patients in any given shift. She applauded governments’ efforts at employing more doctors in the field of medicine to attend to the growing population.
Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya said that government has embarked on a seven-year project to build six hundred and fifty health centers across the country and increase medical training schools. Around 200 students graduate from Zambia’s two government run medical training schools annually. Dr Chilufya said most of the medical students that graduate are accepted for practice in hospitals across the country. However, due to poor working conditions in Zambia, they later travel overseas, especially to the United Kingdom, in search of greener pastures. “Zambia has to almost double the number of health workers from current 42, 630 to 80, 274 by training and recruiting an additional 37, 644 health personnel by 2025.”
According to the National Human Resources for Health Strategic Plan for 2018 – 2024, it is government’s position that absorption of health workforce either by government, the private sector or development partners should be prioritized in the next 5 to 10 years.
Private run Texila American University Vice Chancellor Dr Vijayakumar says his institution aims at training competent students into exceptional doctors. He adds that quality of doctors produced by the university is a priority because people’s lives depend on it. “The ultimate purpose of our Health Programs is to strengthen the health sector and services in Zambia and the region by training health professionals with unique technical skills that are essential to support and complement the health care services provided by government. Texila commits to contribute to human capital development that meets the legitimate need of unmet medical services, especially in the rural and service-deprived areas, by creating a strong and sustainable health care professionals human resource base for health care in Zambia and the region; expand efficient medical services to rural, primary and tertiary health care settings; and empower citizens through transformative quality education of high school graduates to pursue a career in health care”, he said.