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      Unsalaried health workers in Sierra Leone: a scoping review of the literature to establish their impact on healthcare delivery


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          The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates a 10 million health worker shortage by 2030. Despite this shortage, some low-income African countries paradoxically struggle with health worker surpluses. Technically, these health workers are needed to meet the minimum health worker-population ratio, but insufficient job opportunities in the public and private sector leaves available health workers unemployed. This results in emigration and un- or underemployment, as few countries have policies or plans in place to absorb this excess capacity. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have taken a different approach; health authorities and/or public hospitals ‘recruit’ medical and nursing graduates on an unsalaried basis, promising eventual paid public employment. 50% Sierra Leone’s health workforce is currently unsalaried. This scoping review examines the existing evidence on Sierra Leone’s unsalaried health workers (UHWs) to establish what impact they have on the equitable delivery of care.


          A scoping review was conducted using Joanna Briggs Institute guidance. Medline, PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science were searched to identify relevant literature. Grey literature (reports) and Ministry of Health and Sanitation policy documents were also included.


          36 texts, containing UHW related data, met the inclusion criteria. The findings divide into two categories and nine sub-categories: Charging for care and medicines that should be free; Trust and mistrust; Accountability; Informal provision of care, Private practice and lack of regulation. Over-production of health workers; UHW issues within policy and strategy; Lack of personnel data undermines MoHS planning; Health sector finance.


          Sierra Leone’s example demonstrates that UHWs undermine equitable access to healthcare, if they resort to employing a range of coping strategies to survive financially, which some do. Their impact is wide ranging and will undermine Sierra Leone’s efforts to achieve Universal Health Coverage if unaddressed. These findings are relevant to other LICs with similar health worker surpluses.

          Supplementary Information

          The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s12939-023-02066-3.

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          Most cited references65

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          PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR): Checklist and Explanation

          Scoping reviews, a type of knowledge synthesis, follow a systematic approach to map evidence on a topic and identify main concepts, theories, sources, and knowledge gaps. Although more scoping reviews are being done, their methodological and reporting quality need improvement. This document presents the PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews) checklist and explanation. The checklist was developed by a 24-member expert panel and 2 research leads following published guidance from the EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Network. The final checklist contains 20 essential reporting items and 2 optional items. The authors provide a rationale and an example of good reporting for each item. The intent of the PRISMA-ScR is to help readers (including researchers, publishers, commissioners, policymakers, health care providers, guideline developers, and patients or consumers) develop a greater understanding of relevant terminology, core concepts, and key items to report for scoping reviews.
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            Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework

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              Scoping studies: advancing the methodology

              Background Scoping studies are an increasingly popular approach to reviewing health research evidence. In 2005, Arksey and O'Malley published the first methodological framework for conducting scoping studies. While this framework provides an excellent foundation for scoping study methodology, further clarifying and enhancing this framework will help support the consistency with which authors undertake and report scoping studies and may encourage researchers and clinicians to engage in this process. Discussion We build upon our experiences conducting three scoping studies using the Arksey and O'Malley methodology to propose recommendations that clarify and enhance each stage of the framework. Recommendations include: clarifying and linking the purpose and research question (stage one); balancing feasibility with breadth and comprehensiveness of the scoping process (stage two); using an iterative team approach to selecting studies (stage three) and extracting data (stage four); incorporating a numerical summary and qualitative thematic analysis, reporting results, and considering the implications of study findings to policy, practice, or research (stage five); and incorporating consultation with stakeholders as a required knowledge translation component of scoping study methodology (stage six). Lastly, we propose additional considerations for scoping study methodology in order to support the advancement, application and relevance of scoping studies in health research. Summary Specific recommendations to clarify and enhance this methodology are outlined for each stage of the Arksey and O'Malley framework. Continued debate and development about scoping study methodology will help to maximize the usefulness and rigor of scoping study findings within healthcare research and practice.

                Author and article information

                Int J Equity Health
                Int J Equity Health
                International Journal for Equity in Health
                BioMed Central (London )
                9 December 2023
                9 December 2023
                : 22
                : 255
                School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health, Dublin City University, ( https://ror.org/04a1a1e81) Dublin, Ireland
                © The Author(s) 2023

                Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

                : 22 August 2023
                : 26 November 2023
                Funded by: Science Foundation Ireland, Irish Research Council
                Award ID: 21/PATH-A/9583
                Custom metadata
                © BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2023

                Health & Social care
                unsalaried health workers,sierra leone,health systems,healthcare financing,access to healthcare,universal health coverage


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