Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Migrating Doctors Costly and Harmful to African Countries

Daily Monitor: Africa’s Doctor Brain Drain a Home-Made Problem
LA Times: South Africa Loses $1.4 Billion Training Doctors who Emigrated
Medical Express: Doctor Migration to Developed Nations Costs Sub-Saharan Africa Billions of Dollars

A recent trend of emigration to developed nations by medical doctors from underdeveloped African nations has created a big economic and social problem in Africa. The majority of the doctors leave countries with some of the highest HIV infection rates in Africa, (Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, for example). The migrations negatively impact these countries’ economies and healthcare systems.

Though the countries are training about 600 doctors per 10,000 people (at a cost of $21,000 to $59,000 per doctor), they still only have about 8 doctors for every 10,000 people. The United States alone has hired about six percent (5,334 doctors) of the doctors trained in Sub-Saharan Africa. This means that there are only about 90,000 doctors left in the Sub-Saharan countries’ healthcare systems for a population of about 800 million people, drastically lowering the ratio of patients to medical staff.

In response, international organizations have stepped up to address the problem. The World Health Assembly published the “Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel” in 2010 to provide guidelines for the international recruitment of medical doctors by developed nations. The guidelines aim to reduce the number of doctors developed countries hire away from developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) also released a report proposing that developed countries hiring African doctors compensate the African countries for their investments in the doctors’ training. In addition, the WHO believes that the developed countries have an obligation to help finance and improve developing countries’ healthcare systems. Still other groups believe developed countries should somehow be held criminally liable for recruiting African doctors.

Scholars blame many different factors for the migrations, including inadequate wages and poor promotion opportunities. Studies conducted by one group of scholars show a 40-year trend of abuse towards doctors who are forced to work long hours, treat too many patients to provide adequate care to each, and lack the necessary medical materials and facilities. In the face of such poor conditions, the doctors seek countries that will provide them with better opportunities, and developed nations are more than willing to welcome the cheaply-trained doctors. The healthcare systems in these countries will continue to diminish and will become increasingly inadequate to treat the respective populations if something is not done to stop the migrations.

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