During the official opening of the two day summit, the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr Abubakarr Fofanah confessed that Sierra Leone has one of the worst health indicators, and to address these declining health and social welfare indicators, the Government together with partners embarked on a number of reforms of which human resource is very critical of, as it is the epicentre of the health sector.
He said without a robust human resource capacity, health infrastructures, equipment, drugs and medical supplies will be inefficient and remains perilous.
Dr Fofanah maintained that the current interim national development plan for training health workers especially at the higher cadres of specialist nurses, midwives and doctors require travelling to parts of the sub-region, including other countries outside Africa, as there are no available facilities locally.
He said this method of training health professionals is frustratingly slow, expensive, inefficient and non-sustainable for any country in a hurry for development.
As a result, the vast majority of young health workers that Sierra Leone loses to other countries are not necessarily emigrating as most people want to believe, but they do so to look for opportunities to advance their academic pursuits and career profession.
The Health Minister furthered that if the current gap in the area of human resources for health is to be plugged using this current method of capacity building, the country will have to send 100s of health workers out of the country, and this will translate to the loss of at thousands of person-years of service.
At present, Dr Fofanah disclosed, the country is losing a minimum of 160 person-years of service to Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Cameroon and South Africa.
He noted that World Health Organisation benchmarks indicate that with an estimated population of over 6 million, Sierra Leone requires a minimum of 1200 medical doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Sierra Leone, but the present shortage of doctors has already reached and surpassed critical proportions, making the realization of both the MDGs and now the SDGs are both predictably unrealistic and unachievable.
Concluding, the health minister informed the gathering that despite Government’s efforts over the years, several workforce challenges persist, including inequalities, poor education, poor data and resistance to new models of care, noting that professional associations and institutions continue to resist new models of service delivery, such as task shifting.
In line with the above mainstream challenges, the health ministry in the past twelve months undertook the following initiatives to establish a university teaching hospital to formalize the nexus between the medical school and service hospitals, establish the postgraduate college for training all cadres of health personnel at the specialist level, as well as the SCS to address the middle level man power, which needs high level of capacity building as they are the first point of contact.
Making a contribution, Liberia’s Minister of Education, George Werner, was more practical and focused on the issues that need urgent attention, stressing that if Africa wants to build a robust health system like developed countries, it should focus on human resource capacity.
He stated that the downward trend of market price for extractives in the international market, most African Governments find it difficult to make additional investment in the health sector, noting that if health is not accessible and affordable then the people remain vulnerable, and this was the reason why he called on Governments to be more committed to invest in education for a better health system, using inter-multi sectorial approach.
The visiting Minister shared his experience to overhaul the system, while he served as head of Liberia’s Civil Service, bringing synergy within MDAs to improve on service delivery.
Mr Werner called for collective effort and collaboration within Mano River countries, maintaining that “we are the same people, we only share boundaries and therefore best practises should be shared for better results to improve pathways for young people in the health sector”.
The Liberian Education Minister, in conclusion, emphasised the need for education, especially at primary level to help those in the rural communities have fair share of literacy knowledge.
Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Maya Kaikai was delighted as he was accorded the opportunity to be part of an event to save humanity, because when the human resource base is solid, it creates room for effective and efficient service delivery in all cadres of health care delivery in the country.
He disclosed that he didn’t realise there were gaps in the system until ebola struck and further weakened the country’s health workforce.
Minister Kaikai said during the outbreak, it came out clearly that insufficient staffing was a barrier to quickly eliminate the epidemic, therefore the summit came at no better time like now, and called on participants to critically examine the issues affecting human resource capacity in all cadres, up to chiefdom level and come up with meaningful recommendations to address the age old challenge.
Maya Kaikai also urged health ministry officials that as they look at human resource capacity, this is an opportunity to address infrastructural expansion of health facilities and make them more comfortable and patient friendly, including the availability of proper patient diet, basic drugs and materials for the facilities.
The two day summit will wrap up sessions today, and all what will be recommended would be tabled before the ministry to be on the right track for effective implementation.