Africa needs
11 million more doctors, nurses and teachers by 2030 to prevent
a “social and economic disaster” that could propel millions to
migrate, the United Nations said on Thursday.

It said the 11 million were needed to help the continent
cope with a booming population, with the number of children set
to increase by 170 million to 750 million in the next 13 years.

“We are at the most critical juncture for Africa’s
children,” Leila Pakkala of the United Nations Children’s Fund
(UNICEF) said in a statement.

“Get it right, and we could … lift hundreds of millions
out of extreme poverty, and contribute to enhanced prosperity,
stability, and peace,” said Pakkala, who heads UNICEF operations
in eastern and southern Africa.

The UN’s children agency attributed the boom in births to
high fertility rates, a rising number of women of reproductive
age and lower child mortality.

By the end of the century, one in two children worldwide
will live in Africa, it said in a study.

If they reach working age both schooled and healthy, they
could spur economic growth – but for that to happen, Pakkala
said investment in education and health were badly needed.

More schools must be built, it said. And teachers, doctors,
midwives and health workers must be trained and encouraged to
stay in their community rather than move to cities or abroad.

The road is uphill.

More than one in five Africans aged 6 to 11 are not in
school. Girls, in particular, are more likely never to see a
classroom, waylayed by child marriage and teenage pregnancy.

Six in ten Africans lack access to basic sanitation and on
average there are only 1.7 medical professionals per 1,000
inhabitants – well below the minimum international standard of
4.45 set by the World Health Organization.

To bridge the gap, 5.6 million health workers and 5.8
million teachers have to be trained by 2030.

If it fails to invest in its future, Africa risks a
“demographic disaster, characterised by unemployment and
instability,” UNICEF said.

It painted a picture where a lack of jobs, rapid
urbanisation and climate change could force millions to flee the
continent seeking a better life overseas.

Robert Yates, a health expert at the British think tank
Chatham House, said 11 million teachers and medics was a
challenging goal but not unfeasible, as shown by the rapid
development of some Asian countries, such as Thailand and China.

But this required a strong political will to boost public
spending on health and education – rare in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nigeria, which currently accounts for 20 percent of all
Africa’s births, for example spends only 0.9 percent of its GDP
on public health, one of the lowest rates in the world.

Exceptions in recent decades included South
Africa, Rwanda and Ethiopia, Yates said.

“What is important is that other countries follow this
lead,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Thomson Reuters Foundation