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Imbalance in the distribution of human resources for health (HRH), eventually leading to inequities in health services delivery and population health outcomes, is an issue of social and political concern in many countries. However, the empirical evidence to support decision-making is often fragmented, and many standard data sources that can potentially produce statistics relevant to the issue remain underused, especially in developing countries. This study investigated the uses of demographic census data for monitoring geographical imbalance in the health workforce for three developing countries, as a basis for formulation of evidence-based health policy options. Population-based indicators of geographical variations among HRH were extracted from census microdata samples for Kenya, Mexico and Viet Nam. Health workforce statistics were matched against international standards of occupational classification to control for cross-national comparability. Summary measures of inequality were calculated to monitor the distribution of health workers across spatial units and by occupational group. Strong inequalities were found in the geographical distribution of the health workforce in all three countries, with the highest densities of HRH tending to be found in the capital areas. Cross-national differences were found in the magnitude of distributional inequality according to occupational group, with health professionals most susceptible to inequitable distribution in Kenya and Viet Nam but less so in Mexico compared to their associate professional counterparts. Some discrepancies were suggested between mappings of occupational information from the raw data with the international system, especially for nursing and midwifery specializations. The problem of geographical imbalance among HRH across countries in the developing world holds important implications at the local, national and international levels, in terms of constraints for the effective deployment, management and retention of HRH, and ultimately for the equitable delivery of health services. A number of advantages were revealed of using census data in health research, notably the potential for producing detailed statistics on health workforce characteristics at the sub-national level. However, lack of consistency in the compilation and processing of occupational information over time and across countries continues to hamper comparative analyses for HRH policy monitoring and evaluation.
Gupta, N., Zurn, P., Diallo, K., & Dal Poz, M. R. (2003). Uses of population census data for monitoring geographical imbalance in the health workforce: snapshots from three developing countries. International Journal for Equity in Health, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-9276-2-11