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For Africa to achieve universal health coverage by 2030, it will require an additional 1.8 million health workers. 

However, it is projected that the continent will have a critical shortage of a health workforce of about 6.1 million by 2030. 

The statistics were revealed at the opening of the first Africa Health Workforce Investment Forum and the launch of the Africa Health Workforce Investment Charter in Windhoek. 

Resilient and well-functioning health systems are critical to ensuring the attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 3 and other health-related SDGs. 

However, Africa's critical shortage of health workers is said to undermine access to quality health services for its populations. 

According to a study commissioned by the World Health Organisation, Africa has a ratio of 1.55 health workers per 1,000 people.

This, the WHO states, is disturbingly below the WHO threshold density of 4.45 health workers per 1,000 population needed to deliver essential health services and achieve universal health coverage.

The public health workforce shortage in Africa stems from several factors, including underfunding of the health system by member states, inadequate training capacity, and poor remuneration of health workers.

Rapid population growth, international unchecked labour migration, weak governance of the health workforce, a lack of career paths, and poor retention of health personnel are but a few of them.

"Addressing this shortage requires a multi-faceted approach, including investment in training programmes, incentives for health workers to remain in their home countries, and initiatives to attract African professionals in the diaspora back to the continent," said Dr. Kalumbi Shangula, Namibia's Minister of Health and Social Services.

It is for this reason that the forum is being held to discuss innovative financing models, policy and planning, retention strategies, technological advancements, and the involvement of the private sector in health systems. 

"Studies show that investments in the health sector yield substantial economic returns, estimating a nine-to-one return on investment. This is one of the pieces of evidence I'm using when I'm talking about changing the narrative in the health area in Africa. Indeed, some of you ministers who are here know that sometimes you have difficult conversations with ministers of finance because they still believe that the health sector is a liability," said Dr. Jean Kaseya, the Director General of the Africa CDC.

On this occasion, the Africa Health Workforce Investment Charter, which serves to harmonise and amplify collective efforts towards investing in a robust and effective African health workforce, was also launched by Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila. 

"Among other things, the Charter aims to cut Africa's health workforce shortage in half by 2030. This will be achieved by aligning and stimulating sustainable long-term investments in the health workforce across the region to reduce inequalities in access to health workers, especially in rural and underserved areas and in primary healthcare settings. It will also promote the creation of decent jobs and the economic empowerment of women and youth."

The forum, which is attended by about 170 ministerial delegates from 18 African countries, will also provide an opportunity to review progress made in health workforce investment and discuss strategies to protect health workforce budgets amid the global economic downturn and debt distress.

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July Nafuka