Southeast Asia, a region marked by its cultural diversity and economic dynamism, is grappling with a severe shortage of doctors. Among the countries facing this crisis, Bangladesh stands out as one of the most affected. The shortage of healthcare professionals in the region poses a significant threat to public health. It’s also hindered by a lack of access to essential medical services. This article will explore the root causes of the doctor shortage in Southeast Asia. It also focuses on Bangladesh and proposes potential solutions to alleviate this critical issue.

Understanding the Doctor Shortage

Population Growth and Urbanization: One of the primary contributors to the shortage of doctors in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, is the rapid growth of the population coupled with the ongoing process of urbanization. As populations surge, the demand for healthcare services increases, straining the existing healthcare infrastructure. Urbanization exacerbates this problem as people migrate from rural areas to cities, further concentrating the demand for medical care in specific regions.

Inadequate Medical Education Infrastructure: Insufficient investment in medical education infrastructure is another critical factor behind the doctor shortage. Many Southeast Asian countries, including Bangladesh, face challenges in providing quality medical education and training facilities. Limited resources and outdated curricula hinder the production of an adequate number of qualified doctors to meet the growing healthcare demands.

Brain Drain: The phenomenon of “brain drain” exacerbates the shortage of doctors in Southeast Asia. Talented medical professionals often seek better opportunities abroad due to higher pay, improved working conditions, and greater career prospects. This migration of skilled healthcare workers leaves a significant void in the local healthcare system, undermining efforts to address the doctor shortage.

Inadequate Government Spending on Healthcare: Insufficient government spending on healthcare is a common issue across Southeast Asia. Many countries in the region allocate a meager percentage of their GDP to the healthcare sector, limiting the resources available for recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals. This lack of financial investment hampers efforts to improve medical infrastructure, upgrade equipment, and attract skilled doctors to public healthcare facilities.

The Doctor Shortage in Bangladesh

Population Density and Limited Healthcare Access: Bangladesh, a densely populated country in South Asia, faces unique challenges in managing its healthcare system. The high population density, particularly in urban areas like Dhaka, contributes to an overwhelming demand for medical services. However, healthcare facilities are often concentrated in specific regions, leaving large segments of the population with limited access to essential healthcare services.

Inadequate Medical Education System: The medical education system in Bangladesh encounters numerous obstacles, hindering its ability to produce an adequate number of qualified doctors. Limited funding, outdated curricula, and a lack of modern teaching facilities pose significant challenges. Additionally, the accreditation of medical institutions is often inconsistent, affecting the quality of education provided.

Brain Drain and Lack of Incentives: Bangladesh experiences a substantial outflow of skilled healthcare professionals seeking better opportunities abroad. The allure of higher salaries, improved working conditions, and career advancement prompts many doctors to leave the country. The government’s efforts to address this issue have been hindered by a lack of effective policies and incentives to retain healthcare talent.

Insufficient Government Spending on Healthcare: Bangladesh allocates a relatively small portion of its GDP to healthcare, constraining its ability to address the doctor shortage effectively. Limited financial resources result in inadequate salaries and subpar working conditions, making it challenging to attract and retain skilled healthcare professionals in the public sector.

Here are the links to the Best Doctors in Bangladesh under different categories as per ‘Where’s My Doctor?’:

Addressing the Doctor Shortage Crisis

Investment in Medical Education Infrastructure: To address the shortage of doctors in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, there must be a significant investment in medical education infrastructure. Governments should allocate resources to update curricula, enhance teaching facilities, and ensure the accreditation of medical institutions. Establishing partnerships with international medical organizations and universities can also facilitate knowledge exchange and capacity building.

Retention Strategies and Incentives: Countries facing a doctor shortage must implement effective retention strategies and incentives to discourage the migration of healthcare professionals. This includes offering competitive salaries, improving working conditions, and providing opportunities for career advancement. Additionally, targeted policies, such as loan forgiveness programs and continuing education opportunities, can help retain doctors in underserved areas.

International Collaboration and Exchange Programs: Collaboration with international organizations and participation in exchange programs can help Southeast Asian countries address their doctor shortage. By fostering partnerships with developed nations, these countries can benefit from knowledge transfer, training opportunities, and support in building robust healthcare systems. International collaboration can also open avenues for financial assistance and technology transfer to improve medical infrastructure.

Increased Government Spending on Healthcare: Governments in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, need to prioritize healthcare in their budgetary allocations. Increased spending on healthcare will enable the development of modern healthcare infrastructure, the procurement of advanced medical equipment, and the improvement of working conditions for healthcare professionals. A well-funded healthcare system is crucial for attracting and retaining skilled doctors.

Telemedicine and Technology Integration: Embracing telemedicine and integrating technology into healthcare delivery can help bridge the gap in regions with limited access to medical services. Telemedicine platforms can connect patients with doctors remotely, improving healthcare accessibility in rural and underserved areas. Governments should invest in the necessary technology and infrastructure to facilitate the widespread adoption of telemedicine.

Data from a Local Daily

This article from The Business Standard discusses the severe shortage of doctors in rural healthcare facilities in Bangladesh, leading to inadequate medical services for non-Covid patients. According to available data from the health directorate, 58% of upazila hospitals lack the required number of physicians, with some facilities having as many as eight out of ten posts vacant.

The situation has forced hospitals to make desperate choices, such as assigning alternative medicine practitioners to handle patient rushes. In some cases, Ayurvedic practitioners are prescribing allopathic drugs to hundreds of patients daily. The article highlights instances where hospitals have no resident medical officers or consultants, making surgeries impossible in certain areas.

The shortage is attributed to doctors’ unwillingness to work in rural areas, preferring to stay in urban centers for various reasons, including higher education opportunities. A study conducted by the James P Grant School of Public Health at BRAC University identified factors such as recruitment in obscure areas, late promotions, and lack of educational opportunities in districts as reasons for doctors avoiding rural postings. Female physicians, in particular, may be reluctant to stay away from their families.

The article suggests that policy support is necessary to address the issue, advocating for clear instructions on the duration doctors must serve in rural hospitals and offering incentives such as logistical support, accommodation, and office settings. The health directorate Director General acknowledges the problem and mentions ongoing efforts to recruit more doctors to rural hospitals, utilizing resources from the pool of physicians recruited during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The doctor shortage crisis in Southeast Asia, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, demands urgent attention and comprehensive solutions. Addressing the root causes, such as population growth, inadequate medical education infrastructure, and brain drain, requires a multi-faceted approach. By investing in medical education, implementing retention strategies, fostering international collaboration, increasing government spending on healthcare, and embracing technological innovations, Southeast Asian countries can work towards building a resilient and sustainable healthcare system that meets the needs of their growing populations. The collaborative efforts of governments, international organizations, and healthcare professionals are essential to overcoming the challenges posed by the doctor shortage and ensuring a healthier future for the region.

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