By Fred M’membe
We urgently need to employ more than the 700 doctors
The Zambia Medical Association says “Zambia currently has close to 700 medical doctors and dental surgeons who have been awaiting employment for almost two years”.
For a country with so few, and desperately in need of, doctors this is difficult to understand and accept.
Today Zambia’s physicians density stands at 1.19 physicians/1,000 population (2018) – (Source: CIA World Factbook – This page was last updated on September 18, 2021).
The physician density gives the number of medical doctors (physicians), including generalist and specialist medical practitioners, per 1,000 of the population. Medical doctors are defined as doctors that study, diagnose, treat, and prevent illness, disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in humans through the application of modern medicine. They also plan, supervise, and evaluate care and treatment plans by other health care providers. The World Health Organization estimates that fewer than 2.3 health workers (physicians, nurses, and midwives only) per 1,000 would be insufficient to achieve coverage of primary healthcare needs.
Physicians density in Zambia was 0.091 as of 2016. It was 0.163 in 2012, 0.052 in 2006 (Source: World Health Organization’s Global Health Workforce Statistics, OECD, supplemented by country data).
WHO estimates that at least 2.5 medical staff (physicians, nurses and midwives) per 1,000 people are needed to provide adequate coverage with primary care interventions (WHO, World Health Report 2006).
It’s scandalous that a country with such a low physician density cannot prioritise the employment of 700 doctors. But it has money to urgently employ district commissioners and other political personnel.
The country needs far more doctors than the 700 we are failing to employ. We actually urgently need to hire more expatriate doctors to meet the minimum number required to give our people the minimum acceptable standard of health care.
With a physician density of 1.19 per 1,000 population it means that the great majority of our people are born and die without ever seeing or being touched by a doctor. When such people talk of a doctor they are actually talking about a clinical officer or male nurse – since a female nurse is referred to as a “sister”.
And because of this very low physician density we are everyday unnecessarily losing our women in childbirth. Today Zambia, with a maternal mortality of 591 deaths per 100,000 live births, is among countries with the highest maternal mortality rates in the world partly due to lack of doctors. Five per cent of our expecting mothers need Caesarean operation, especially with a very high number of teenage pregnancies. But a Cesarean operation can only be conducted by a qualified physician, and not a clinical officer or nurse. Many of our health centres, clinics and hospitals don’t have doctors to carry these desperately needed Cesarean operations.
Clearly, we urgently need to employ more than the 700 doctors we are failing to employ.
Life is sacred. One cannot claim to uphold the principle of the sanctity of life if provision has not been made for even minimal healthcare for every person.
This is a priority we cannot ignore if we wish to be a caring and compassionate nation. It must be recognized that, if this problem is to be tackled, it will demand the allocation of more state resources to health.
The Socialist Party is making its modesty contribution by training a few medical doctors. Right now it has 17 young Zambians from poor backgrounds studying medicine abroad. And this year it is sponsoring another 30.