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Oxfam urges greater aid focus on health workers and teachers

At the start of the Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF, Oxfam is calling on donor governments including New Zealand to help solve the chronic shortage of doctors, nurses and teachers in developing countries.

“Too many developing countries are dependent on a handful of poorly-paid health and education services workers,” said Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand. “Education and health care are crucial in saving lives and helping people escape poverty yet only eight cents of every dollar in aid goes to paying for the people that deliver these essential services,” he added.

In a report published today, Paying for People, Oxfam estimates that NZ$19 billion is required annually to fund the additional 2.1 million teachers and 4.2 million health care workers – half of them in Africa – urgently needed to break the cycle of poverty. With salaries barely above the poverty line and a shortage of training institutions in developing countries, the report shows that recruitment of workers has not just stalled, but reversed. Long-term, predictable aid is the only way to help governments solve the staffing crisis in these vital services.

“The report focuses mainly on Africa. But shortages of skilled public sector workers are also a vital issue for the Pacific. The problems of poor pay and conditions for public sector workers are exacerbated by the recruitment programmes from New Zealand and other countries. When faced with a choice of far higher salaries abroad, it is little surprise that there is a mass exodus of skilled professionals out of the Pacific,” said Coates.

“Incentives are needed to alleviate the brain-drain of skilled Pacific education and health workers lured to Australia and New Zealand by higher salaries and other benefits,” said Coates. “We benefit from the investments that the Pacific makes in terms of education and training. It is time that we lifted the level of New Zealand government aid from one of the lowest in the OECD so that we pay our fair share. More aid is an essential investment in supporting a better future for the youth of the Pacific, especially to improve the provision of essential services like health, education and water.”

World leaders have promised to increase both the quantity of aid they provide for health and education, and to ensure that aid can be spent where it’s most needed – such as on salaries and training. But those promises have been repeatedly broken. Oxfam’s new report calls for urgent action to help poor countries pay for the six million teachers and health workers who would deliver health and education for all.

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