A recent Reuters article on Chinese health care points to a problem endemic in much of the developing world: a massive shortage of trained health care workers. China’s problem is unique in that it has the money for equipment, and is supplying top-notch tools and clinics, but as it considers spreading health care coverage to its rural areas, it does not have enough skilled technicians and doctors to work the equipment and run the clinics.
A man whose company trains rural doctors says, “The single biggest issue today is still the skill level of practicing officials in the rural areas… Purchasing equipment is quick and easy. Education and training is not a simple issue that can be directly solved by money.”
India too suffers from a massive skills shortage, which is set only to worsen. Indian demographics, with a quickly growing young population, will need 300,000 more doctors and 600,000 more nurses by 2012. Its current medical education system is able to produce only 31,000 per year.
Ad the problem for India starts at the most basic level- it still has an illiteracy rate over 60%. If children can’t read and write, they most certainly can’t grow up to be doctors and nurses.
The Chinese and Indian examples can shed light on the situation in other developing countries as well. Education and training and fighting corruption, which is rife in the education and health care fields, are necessary foundations for any development efforts. No matter how much money is thrown at a problem, and how much shiny new equipment governments purchase or the UN provides, a nation cannot move its people out of poverty without sound foundations for growth.
Michelle Kaffenberger is a former research assistant at The Heritage Foundation and is currently a graduate student in Economic Development at Vanderbilt University.