Revealed: Staff absenteeism at health facilities shocking

Saturday May 28 2016


By Syriacus Buguzi @buguzi

Dar es Salaam. Fourteen per cent of health care providers were reported to be absent from their work stations when the World Bank carried out a survey in rural and urban areas in Tanzania.

But the extent of absenteeism among the health workers had dropped from 21 per cent of 2010, says the Services Delivery Indicators report which was released yesterday here.

The survey on health delivery was carried out between May and September 2014.

The report findings have raised eyebrows of some health stakeholders who wanted to know the sample size upon which the data was collected. Dr Hadija Muhina of the Commission for Science and Technology questioned why the report did not give the reasons behind absenteeism.

However, the Repoa director for Commissioned Works, Dr Lucas Katera, who presented the data, defended the findings, saying they were a true reflection of the realities on the ground and were in line with other reports which had been released on the same matter.

The report showed that doctors—especially in urban areas—were the most likely to be absent from work and their absence was more likely not to have been approved by the authorities. Generally, absenteeism was more prevalent in Dar es Salaam, by 21 per cent, compared with the rest of the country.

On average, health facilities across Tanzania—excluding Zanzibar—were staffed with 13.1 health workers. Urban facilities had more staff—carrying 24.5 per cent—compared with rural facilities which were found to have 6 per cent of all the healthcare providers.

“Over 70 per cent of the population and 85 per cent of the poor live in the rural areas but they were found to be served by only 28 per cent of the country’s workforce, and a mere 9 per cent of its doctors,’’ says the report which was produced in collaboration with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Although only 10 per cent of Tanzanians live in Dar es Salaam, the city was home to 45 per cent of all the doctors. The public health facilities were found to have fewer staff than those in the private sector, according to findings from the survey carried out between May and September 2014. More than half—55 per cent—of the health workers were nurses.

Some analysts have pointed out that it was ironical for the Tanzanian government to claim it supports the poor while statistics paint a different picture. Prof Kitila Mkumbo of the University of Dar es Salaam said the government needed to invest amply in social services in rural areas where the majority of people live.

“Tanzania has historically boasted of being a country that supports rural areas. And, in many previous reports, it has been shown that rural people support the government of the day. This report now should be a wake-up call that the government must take resources to where they are needed most,” he said.

But the deputy permanent secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), Dr Deo Mtasiwa, said the fifth-phase government was working on instilling more accountability and work ethics to try and tame absenteeism of health workers.

“The task force formed to redistribute the health workers also aims at removing all the rural-urban disparities in health-worker distribution,’’ said Dr Mtasiwa.

The World Bank Group vice president on human development, Mr Keith Hansen, told The Citizen that the Tanzanian government was in a good position to bridge the human resource gaps if it strived to widen the tax collection base and ensure accountability.

“Tanzania had been progressing well and it performed better than many countries in the Millennium Development Goals; it only needs to focus on strengthening the health financing system to be able to provide adequate resources to the rural areas,’’ he said.