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Health Care Brain Drain

Health Care Brain Drain Threatens To Overwhelm Developing World – UN Report

The loss of workers to migration is overwhelming the developing world’s health-care systems as qualified personnel leave for wealthier industrialized countries, according to a new report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Coupled with a resurgence of infectious diseases and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, migration is “exacerbating” an already “acute” shortage of health care workers in Africa. The report, International Migration and the Millennium Development Goals, said that poor countries, many of them with the fewest health-care workers but highest infectious disease burden, are “subsidizing” the health-care systems of wealthier countries.

Africa, for example, despite being home to fully one quarter of the world’s disease burden, has only 1.3 per cent of its health-care workers. The problem is even worse in English-speaking African nations. Ghana, for instance, reports a health-care specialist vacancy rate of 72 per cent, while landlocked Malawi, one of the countries hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, has a nursing staff deficit of 52.9 per cent.

Among the beneficiaries are wealthier industrialized countries, which are now feeling the pinch of an aging population and low fertility rates that contribute to a growing demand for health-care services, coupled with a precipitous drop in the number of new workers. In 2002, the United Kingdom’s Nurses Council Register reported that more than 50 per cent of its new recruits came from outside of the country.

Although some countries, such as the Philippines, India and Cuba, actually produce a surplus of migrant health-care workers whose remittances play a huge role in boosting local economies, the same cannot be said for others.

A number of countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa remain well below the health worker density of 2.5 per 1,000 of the population required to meet the Millennium Development Goal targets that seek to cut maternal and infant mortality and sharply increase access to health care by 2015.

The report also noted that “perhaps a more insidious but debilitating effect of the external migration of health professionals” is the loss of the skilled educators, trainers and specialists necessary to continue to produce native health-care workers. This could “erode ethics and professional standards,” it added.


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