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University researchers claim exodus of many health professionals could end world’s ability to fight disease
The global “resignation” of doctors and nurses could stop the world’s ability to fight diseases such as Ebola, researchers say.
Despite major advances in tackling infectious diseases over the past few decades, researchers said the rise of high-tech diagnostic techniques and the transition to modern medicine in the 21st century had left countries lacking specialist personnel to act as a “last line of defence”.
The international team from the University of Washington, Seattle, in the US, based their case on a disease outbreak which claimed 1 million lives – in West Africa in 2014.
And the US government’s H1N1 flu pandemic prevention study, which detailed how an epidemic affected hospitals and infection control on the ground, identified shortages of personnel, non-enforceable work hours and financial pressures as among the factors contributing to the outbreak.
Researchers said that, when you combine the areas, it was a “single disease outbreak which could spell the end of the world’s ability to treat disease and stop the disease in its tracks”.
And the threat posed by this “big step backwards” in healthcare comes at a time when an “unprecedented” level of public health risk is being posed by climate change, the scientists said.
The warning comes at a time when the world is facing another potential pandemic, a bird flu strain known as avian influenza A6 baviruses, which is now as lethal as Ebola, the researchers said.
The newly published article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled An Illicit resignation of healthcare workers prevents effective hospital infection control and jeopardises future disease control systems, analysed work from 2005 and 2008.
In November, another research team found there were already at least 18 developing countries suffering from “massive outflow” of healthcare workers, which it said was evidence of a global “exit from public health”.
The study authors found the departure of healthcare professionals was stifling a range of Ebola treatment programmes in West Africa.
They said: “Governments around the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa, were consistently low on opportunities for healthcare workers to obtain available on-call positions or administrative/administrative assistance.
“Government programmes ran into functional challenges, with many healthcare workers withdrawing completely, while others left to practise in hospitals outside their home countries.”
Dr Doug Rudd, a senior research fellow at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, said: “Our research will require significant government investment and engagement on government, global and local levels to secure the future of a well-trained workforce and secure global public health preparedness.”
Prof Terence Kealey, professor of health, economics and policy at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the H1N1 study, said: “Under any circumstances, the work of international human resources and its importance in maintaining adequate healthcare resources and innovation cannot be understated.
“Therefore this is the time to put the resources into this issue. If policymakers fail to do so, failure to prepare in the face of economic, social, and political complexities will have fatal consequences.”