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Not enough there, too many here: understanding geographical imbalances in the distribution of the health workforce

, 1 , 2

Human Resources for Health

BioMed Central

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      Access to good-quality health services is crucial for the improvement of many health outcomes, such as those targeted by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in 2000. The health-related MDGs cannot be achieved if vulnerable populations do not have access to skilled personnel and to other necessary inputs. This paper focuses on the geographical dimension of access and on one of its critical determinants: the availability of qualified personnel. The objective of this paper is to offer a better understanding of the determinants of geographical imbalances in the distribution of health personnel, and to identify and assess the strategies developed to correct them. It reviews the recent literature on determinants, barriers and the effects of strategies that attempted to correct geographical imbalances, with a focus on empirical studies from developing and developed countries. An analysis of determinants of success and failures of strategies implemented, and a summary of lessons learnt, is included.

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      Human resources for health policies: a critical component in health policies

      In the last few years, increasing attention has been paid to the development of health policies. But side by side with the presumed benefits of policy, many analysts share the opinion that a major drawback of health policies is their failure to make room for issues of human resources. Current approaches in human resources suggest a number of weaknesses: a reactive, ad hoc attitude towards problems of human resources; dispersal of accountability within human resources management (HRM); a limited notion of personnel administration that fails to encompass all aspects of HRM; and finally the short-term perspective of HRM. There are three broad arguments for modernizing the ways in which human resources for health are managed: • the central role of the workforce in the health sector; • the various challenges thrown up by health system reforms; • the need to anticipate the effect on the health workforce (and consequently on service provision) arising from various macroscopic social trends impinging on health systems. The absence of appropriate human resources policies is responsible, in many countries, for a chronic imbalance with multifaceted effects on the health workforce: quantitative mismatch, qualitative disparity, unequal distribution and a lack of coordination between HRM actions and health policy needs. Four proposals have been put forward to modernize how the policy process is conducted in the development of human resources for health (HRH): • to move beyond the traditional approach of personnel administration to a more global concept of HRM; • to give more weight to the integrated, interdependent and systemic nature of the different components of HRM when preparing and implementing policy; • to foster a more proactive attitude among human resources (HR) policy-makers and managers; • to promote the full commitment of all professionals and sectors in all phases of the process. The development of explicit human resources policies is a crucial link in health policies and is needed both to address the imbalances of the health workforce and to foster implementation of the health services reforms.
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          Organizing delivery care: what works for safe motherhood?

          The various means of delivering essential obstetric services are described for settings in which the maternal mortality ratio is relatively low. This review yields four basic models of care, which are best described by organizational characteristics relating to where women give birth and who performs deliveries. In Model 1, deliveries are conducted at home by a community member who has received brief training. In Model 2, delivery takes place at home but is performed by a professional. In Model 3, delivery is performed by a professional in a basic essential obstetric care facility, and in Model 4 all women give birth in a comprehensive essential obstetric care facility with the help of professionals. In each of these models it is assumed that providers do not increase the risk to women, either iatrogenically or through traditional practices. Although there have been some successes with Model 1, there is no evidence that it can provide a maternal mortality ratio under 100 per 100,000 live births. If strong referral mechanisms are in place the introduction of a professional attendant can lead to a marked reduction in the maternal mortality ratio. Countries using Models 2-4, involving the use of professional attendants at delivery, have reduced maternal mortality ratios to 50 or less per 100,000. However, Model 4, although arguably the most advanced, does not necessarily reduce the maternal mortality ratio to less than 100 per 100,000. It appears that not all countries are ready to adopt Model 4, and its affordability by many developing countries is doubtful. There are few data making it possible to determine which configuration with professional attendance is the most cost-effective, and what the constraints are with respect to training, skill maintenance, supervision, regulation, acceptability to women, and other criteria. A successful transition to Models 2-4 requires strong links with the community through either traditional providers or popular demand.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Human Development Department, World Bank Institute, Washington, DC, USA
            [2 ]Consultant, Pan American Health Organization, Washington, DC, USA
            Hum Resour Health
            Human Resources for Health
            BioMed Central (London )
            27 May 2006
            : 4
            : 12
            Copyright © 2006 Dussault and Franceschini; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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