The authors have no competing interests to declare.
FMG, GTM, AM, and SN led the conceptualization, data collection, interpretation of findings, writing, and editing. ML led the engagement and communication with key stakeholders and decision-makers from MoH throughout the project and contributed to the conceptualization, data collection, interpretation of findings, writing, and editing. CMM contributed to the conceptualization, interpretation of findings, writing, and editing. AG contributed to data collection, interpretation of findings, writing, and editing. JR contributed to writing and editing. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.
Human resources for health (HRH) planning in Zambia, as in other countries, is often done by comparing current HRH numbers with established posts, without considering whether population health needs are being met. Service-based HRH planning compares the number and type of services required by populations, given their needs, with the capacity of existing HRH to perform those services. The objective of the study was to demonstrate the effectiveness of service-based HRH planning through its adaptation in two rural Zambian districts, Gwembe and Chibombo.
The health conditions causing the greatest mortality and morbidity in each district were identified using administrative data and consultations with community health committees and health workers. The number and type of health care services required to address these conditions were estimated based on their population sizes, incidence and prevalence of each condition, and desired levels of service. The capacity of each district’s health workers to provide these services was estimated using a survey of health workers (n=44) that assessed the availability of their specific competencies.
The primary health conditions identified in the two districts were HIV/AIDS in Gwembe and malaria in Chibombo. Although the competencies of the existing health workforces in these two mostly aligned with these conditions, some substantial gaps were found between the services the workforce can provide and the services their populations need. The largest gaps identified in both districts were: performing laboratory testing and interpreting results, performing diagnostic imaging and interpreting results, taking and interpreting a patient’s medical history, performing a physical examination, identifying and diagnosing the illness in question, and assessing eligibility for antiretroviral treatment.
Although active, productive, and competent, health workers in these districts are too few to meet the leading health care needs of their populations. Given the specific competencies most lacking, on-site training of existing health workers to develop these competencies may be the best approach to addressing the identified gaps. Continued use of the service-based approach in Zambia will enhance the country’s ability to align the training, management, and deployment of its health workforce to meet the needs of its people.