Recruitment and retention strategies, policies, and their barriers: A narrative review in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
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Background: Understanding factors affecting recruitment and retention of health workers in rural and remote communities is necessary for proper policy development and the equitable achievement of Universal Health Coverage. Aim: Review and synthesize the literature on interventions used to retain health workforce in rural and remote areas by low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR). Method: We carried out a narrative review of literature (peer-reviewed and gray) on the distribution and retention of health workers in rural and remote areas in the LMICs of the EMR. Out of the 130 retrieved articles, 21 met the inclusion criteria and were studied using WHO's Global Recommendations For Increasing Access To Health Workers In Remote And Rural Areas Through Improved Retention (education, regulation, financial, and personal/professional) as the analytical framework for extractions. Results: There is a dearth of literature on retention in rural areas in the EMR and a complete absence of evaluation studies for implemented intervention. Various LMICs in the EMR have implemented interventions across one or more of the WHO four categories, especially educational and regulatory interventions. Limitations in the number and quality of published studies, fragmented data, over-representation of certain cadres in research and policies, and poor governance were chief barriers to the design, implementation, and evaluation of health workforce retention policies in rural and remote areas. The main challenges for EMR countries are in policy implementation and evaluation. Strengthening data governance and health information systems would improve evidence-based policies and enhance retention in rural and remote areas. Conclusions: There is a need for a focused research agenda supported by regional collaboration to guide policymakers on factors, challenges, and best practices that need to be considered for improving the distribution and retention of the health workforce by cadre, gender, and region.