Health Management Human Resources Rural Health

Red tape keeps foreign physicians out of health care

Written by Ayanda Mkhwanazi

Foreign health care workers could help fill the country’s vacant posts but a report released today shows that red tape often gets in the way.

While organisations argue that there is a need for foreign health care workers in rural areas, most foreign workers are based in just two provinces.

While organisations argue that there is a need for foreign health care workers in rural areas, most foreign workers are based in just two provinces.

Foreign medical professionals comprise about 13 percent of public sector medical practitioners, according to a new report released today (29 September) by University of the Witswatersrand’s African Centre for Migration and Society. About 40 percent of these workers come from neighbouring countries and about an equal portion from overseas. A quarter of these workers come from African countries farther afield.

While the exact extent of South Africa’s health care worker shortage remains disputed, 2009 World Health Organisation data showed that the country had less than one doctor per every 1000 people.

Although the report notes that foreign health care workers can play a role in filling this gap, it shows that foreign health care workers face cumbersome verification processes that often delay their entry into the work force.

“The recruitment process is in general inefficient and can be improved in many ways, including the reduction of waiting times,” said University of the Witswatersrand Associate Professor Aurelia Segatti. “The employment of foreign professionals seems less problematic once the recruitment process has been completed, but tensions and discrimination exist.”[quote float=”right”]“We are competing with the rest of the world for these doctors”

The report cites that better coordination between the Department of Health and the Health Professions Council of South Africa could speed up workers’ entry into the health care system.

Most foreign health care workers are based in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, according to the research. The Johannesburg-based non-profit organisation Africa Health Placements (AHP) helps place foreign health care workers in rural public sector health facilities. AHP CEO Saul Kornik says there is a great need for foreign professionals in South Africa.

“If the richest countries in the world such as America and the United Kingdom.. rely on foreigners so do we,” said Kormik, who added that while 33 percent of South Africans live in rural areas, not many South African doctors are willing to work outside urban centres. “We are competing with the rest of the world for these doctors.”

Recently Western Cape MEC for Health Theuns Botha touted the idea of a private medical school for the country.

But Segatti added that the country was likely to need foreign health care workers for the foreseeable future – even if the country drastically increased capacity to produce more medical professionals.

“Even with the current plans to increase medical schools and nursing colleges or even the opening up of private medical schools, additional training means additional training capacity will also have to be imported,” she told Health-e News.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the 29 September edition of The Mercury newspaper.

About the author

Ayanda Mkhwanazi

Ayanda Mkhwanazi is a senior journalist with Health-e News.