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Original Research

Retention of qualified healthcare workers in rural Senegal: lessons learned from a qualitative study

Submitted: 20 July 2016
Revised: 18 April 2017
Accepted: 19 April 2017
Published: 12 September 2017

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Author(s) : Nagai M, Fujita N, Diouf IS, Salla M.

Mari NagaiNoriko FujitaIbrahima DioufMalick Salla

Citation: Nagai M, Fujita N, Diouf IS, Salla M.  Retention of qualified healthcare workers in rural Senegal: lessons learned from a qualitative study. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2017; 17: 4149. Available: (Accessed 27 September 2017)


Introduction:  Deployment and retention of a sufficient number of skilled and motivated human resources for health (HRH) at the right place and at the right time are critical to ensure people’s right to access a universal quality of health care. Vision Tokyo 2010 Network, an international network of HRH managers at the ministry of health (MoH) level in nine Francophone African countries, identified maldistribution of a limited number of healthcare personnel and their retention in rural areas as overarching problems in the member countries. The network conducted this study in Senegal to identify the determining factors for the retention of qualified HRH in rural areas, and to explore an effective and feasible policy that the MoH could implement in the member countries.
Methods:  Doctors, nurses, midwives and superior technicians in anesthesiology who were currently working (1) in a rural area and had been for more than 2 years, (2) in Dakar with experience of working in a rural area or (3) in Dakar without any prior experience working in a rural area were interviewed about their willingness and reasons for accepting work or continuing to work in a rural area and their suggested policies for deployment and retention of healthcare workers in rural areas. In-depth interviews were conducted with policy makers in MoH, asking for their perceptions on human resource management in health and about their suggested policies for deployment and retention.
Results:  A total of 176 healthcare workers and eight policy makers were interviewed. The willingness to face challenges in a new place was one of the main reasons for accepting work in rural areas. The identified factors to motivate or demotivate healthcare workers in rural areas were related to pre-service and in-service education, regulatory systems, financial and non-financial incentive schemes and environmental support. Factors not included in WHO’s global recommendation but highly valued in this study were (1) the fairness, transparency and predictability of human resource management by the MoH and (2) employment status, ie permanent government staff versus contract staff. Financial incentive schemes were less commonly suggested. Family bonding and religious-related non-financial incentive schemes were found to be specific factors in Senegal, but would also be applicable in countries where family and religion play important roles in the values of healthcare workers.
Conclusions:  Improved HRH management, eg the transparency of human resource management by the MoH, was identified as a pre-condition of any policy implementation related to HRH. This factor can be considered in other countries struggling to retain healthcare workers in rural areas. The Vision Tokyo 2010 Network or HRH managers’ network in Francophone Africa, Senegal MoH and the research team plan to conduct a quantitative survey to confirm the generalizability of the results of this qualitative survey, and to identify the most effective combination of policies to improve the retention of qualified healthcare workers and seek their implementation in other countries in the region as network activities.

Key words: deployment, Francophone Africa, healthcare workers, human resource management, retention.

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