Africa's Brain Drain

27 May 2005

The London Independent today dedicated its first five pages to a special report on the escalating crisis of health services in sub-saharan Africa due to the West's "poaching" of trained medical professionals. To read their coverage, go here. For more info, the BBC also reports on the increasing problem of the "brain drain" as highlighted by UK doctors.

Although it is easy to view the practice as a cynical extension of Britain and the developed world's imperialist attitude (200 years ago it was slaves, now it is the medical workforce), there is another side to the story. Many Africans want to leave for the West, where they can earn more money in order to invest and send remittances to family back home. David Styan has an interesting article on this topic, and the role of Africans in the global economy.

The Independent's report comes in the midst of the hype surrounding Tony Blair's "year of Africa"and the continuing Make Poverty History campaign. With the forthcoming G8 summit in Gleneagles, the British prime minister is in a rush to convince the world's leaders to get on board with the project, and the announcement of the British Medical Association will try to focus talks in Edinburgh on the realities of the thousands of African workers shoring up the G8's health services.

James Johnson, the chairman of the British Medical Association points out that global travel has always been a strength of health workers, whose transferable skills can be shared and developed collaboratively, but this he says, is now a dangerously romantic view. The continued migration of health workers is creating an untenable situation in countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and Nigeria, and of course it is not only to Britain that workers are coming.

It is an ongoing concern of African health ministers who met at the World Health Assembly earlier this month, and there is further concerned comment here from the editor of the American Journal of Bioethics.

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