May 25, 2018

Africa battling health sector brain drain

Africa battling health sector brain drain

The African continent carries roughly a quarter of the burden of the world’s diseases with just over 1% of the world's health workforce, reports South Africa’s The Citizen

The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that the emigration of health professionals has eroded the ability of medical and social services in several sub-Saharan African countries to deliver even basic health and social needs, with 38 of the 47 sub-Saharan African countries falling short of minimum WHO standards.

The African Union (AU) recently published a draft report of a ten-year plan to reduce the migration of African professionals with critical skills to developed countries, particularly doctors, nurses, and engineers. Many wealthy countries depend heavily on immigrant doctors to make up their own shortfalls, including the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia. 

According to AU stats, 75% of all trained physicians in Mozambique emigrate. The figures for Angola, 70%, Malawi, 59%, Zambia, 57%, and Zimbabwe, 51% are also alarmingly high. The AU plan urges African countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, to encourage their diaspora to contribute to development in their home countries through the transfer of skills, knowledge, and technology.

Changzoo Song has written about engaging diaspora communities for IZA World of Labor. “The policy of engaging members of the diaspora has brought substantial benefits to the South Korean economy—and more are expected over the long term,” he writes. “Small countries with substantial diaspora populations might achieve similar long-term gains from adopting policies to engage the diaspora. Such policies can be a smart response to the challenges of increasing globalization and transnationalism, even if they can be seen as fundamentally ethno-nationalistic.”

The AU action plan also highlights a need to provide gainful employment, professional development, and educational opportunities for qualified professionals in their home countries.

The College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (Cosecsa), the second largest surgical training institute in sub-Saharan Africa, has shown that investing in education gives African doctors an incentive to remain at home. Recent research has shown that 93% of its surgeon graduates are retained in the sub-Saharan region, helping to counteract the brain drain.

The conditions under which a country gains or loses from emigration are not beyond its control, according to Frédéric Docquier. “To a large extent, they depend on the policies it adopts (education policy, quality of institutions) and those in force in the main host countries. The appropriateness of adjustments of local policies and supranational interventions (such as taxing emigrants, subsidizing repatriation, providing compensatory development assistance) vary with such country characteristics as population size, location, and language…Policymakers should gauge the costs and benefits of the brain drain in order to design appropriate policy responses.”