Yet, these critical human resources remain below optimal levels and the world continues to experience a severe shortage of health workers. This is a reality we must profile and commit to solving during this World Health Worker Week. The shortage has particularly dire consequences in developing countries with already under-resourced and strained health systems. The WHO determined that a minimum of 23 doctors, nurses, and midwives are needed for every 10,000 people in order to fulfill essential health needs. In Kenya and Uganda, there are roughly half the required number of doctors, nurses, and midwives. In Tanzania, there is roughly a tenth of the required workforce.
Nurses and midwives working in low-resource health centers do their best to prepare for whomever walks through the door, regardless of the equipment or available colleagues to assist them. But this makes for difficult working conditions, like delivering a baby without clean water and a fresh pair of gloves, or working without vacations in sight because they are the sole health provider for their community. In the case of an emergency, there may be no doctor to provide specialist advice or no medivac service to transport a patient to a better equipped hospital. In places like these, a nurse like Aga Khan University Alumni Caroline Ndichu must have a wide range of skills well beyond their traditional roles, as well as the ability to think quickly and improvise. Their decisions can literally mean the difference between life and death.