Addressing West Africa’s health workforce crisis

Member countries of the West African Health OrganizationServing all 15 countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), WAHO works to improve health in the region by harmonizing policies and pooling resources. Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in the region is hindered by the health workforce crisis. The World Health Organization1 has cited 57 countries that do not meet the basic threshold of sufficient personnel to provide essential health care, defined as 2.3 doctors, nurses, and midwives per 1,000 people. All of the WAHO member countries (see map) are among them. Simply put, there are too few health workers, and many of those who are present are inadequately educated and trained, inequitably distributed, and poorly supported.

Addressing this health workforce crisis requires reliable information on the availability and distribution of different categories of health workers. In West Africa, this information has been either inaccessible or not up-to-date. Most WAHO countries had some health workforce data linked to the Ministry of Finance’s payroll database, but these did not provide the information health leaders needed in terms of availability, distribution, and skills mix. None had an HRIS that could be used for planning. Therefore WAHO sought a functional, affordable, and sustainable HRIS that could be used by all member countries and enable the regional exchange of information and aggregation of data.
In 2009, WAHO organized a Meeting of Directors of Human Resources Development of the Ministries of Health of the ECOWAS. Attendees agreed that the iHRIS software suite had the potential to meet current needs for HRIS in the region. Developed by the Capacity Project and now supported by CapacityPlus with USAID funding, iHRIS is free, open source software currently used by 12 countries around the world to track and manage health workers. There are 475,000 health worker records in the various national systems. Because the software is open source, these countries do not have to pay licensing fees and can modify it to meet their specific needs.

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1World Health Organization. 2006. The world health report 2006: Working together for health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.