This article was written exclusively for The European Sting by Ms. Rawshan Saiyara Nawal, a Bangladeshi medical student now in her 3rd year at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, University of Dhaka. She is a member of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), a warm partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IFMSA or The European Sting on the subject.
IBM describes “Health technology is any technology, including medical devices, IT systems, algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud and blockchain, developed to support healthcare organizations.” Merriam Webster also defines workforce as “the workers who work in a specific activity or company”. And here the gap is commonly referred to as the gap between supply and demand of the healthcare workforce.
The World Health Organization – WHO recommended a physician to population ratio of 1:1,000. The number of doctors in Bangladesh, UK, USA and other 33 developed countries was 0.5, 2.8, 2.77 and 3 per 1000 population between 2010 and 2020 according to estimates by WHO and others. Thus, there is a huge labor gap considering the number of doctors in the healthcare sector in developing countries like Bangladesh. The other health workers’ data imply almost the same staffing gap.
Remarkable advances in information technology have the prospect of elevating the delivery of health care services to a new level. Healthcare people and their services have taken center stage, taking personal risks to help contain the spread of COVID-19, and new technologies such as telemedicine have been deployed extensively. Nowadays, patient diagnosis has improved. Organ transplants became common. Robotic services in healthcare will be improved. A key question, however, is how such an improvement will affect healthcare workers in the future. And the answer is not the same for developed countries and the rest of the world.
The integrated knowledge-based economy is rapidly changing the world. On the way to the 4th industrial revolution, a paradigm shift is expected in the global healthcare sector. In developed countries, there is a labor force gap due to demographic imbalances – more dependent people versus able people. It also affects health care. On the other hand, in some developing countries like Bangladesh, the scenario is completely opposite. Structurally, Bangladesh benefits from the demographic dividend. However, there is a workforce gap in the healthcare sector due to lower investment in healthcare – in service, facility and medical education aspects. In the least developed countries, the situation is even worse.
According to the US National Health Expenditure Accounts, GDP spending on healthcare is now nearly 18%. On the contrary, it was less than 1% in Bangladesh’s FY21 budget and (A case for building a Stronger Health Care System in Bangladesh, by MD RAFI HOSSAIN AND SHAKIL AHMED, 2020, published at End Poverty in South Asia and in the World Bank website blogs).
Therefore, new or cutting-edge technologies can be fully viable in the developed world where there are labor shortages. But over-reliance on new technologies as a substitute for an educated, trained and skilled workforce would not be sustainable to fill the labor force gap in developing and least developed countries. Rather, a degree of reliance on new technologies while increasing investment in improving healthcare workers, services and facilities would be more sustainable for them.
About the author
Rawshan Saiyara Nawal is a Bangladeshi medical student who is now in her third year at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, University of Dhaka. She is Local Officer of the Standing Committee on Professional Exchange (SCOPE). Nawal showed excellent performance in academic and extracurricular activities. She received merit grants in all public exams. She also received awards for best performance at the district and division levels in cultural, writing, and debating competitions. Service to humanity is their goal. She is involved in student aid campaigns.