By Sarah Ssali
In this session, Barbara McPake from ReBUILD and the Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne, presented a paper titled “Analyzing Markets for Health Workers: Insights from Labour and Health Economics”, in which she observed that most of the challenges that have been observed about human resources for health, such as the rural vs urban and the north vs south divides are just symptoms of the problem. In her view the real causes of the problem were the low effective demand for professional health workers in the societies where they are lacking, in that while the workers are needed, there is limited willingness to pay for health, which in turn leads to low demand for their services. She also observed that as with all markets, the health labour market follows where the good opportunities are, which culminates in health workers migrating to wherever effective demand for their services was higher (either higher pay, more dense population and curative instead of preventive care), consequently leading to higher returns to their labour. To resolve the challenges of the health labour market (such as scarcity of health care workers in rural areas or in the global south), she encouraged us to understand how markets, including health markets, operate and creating effective demand for health. For if we did not understand this we shall continue devising policies and programmes that solve the symptoms and not the real problems, compounding the problem further.