Migration of medical experts costs African health system billions
Healthcare professionals are leaving Africa for better paid work abroad, creating an unreliable industry of short-term aid on the continent that could be costing its education and healthcare sectors up to US$3 billion, according to senior Kenyan and World Bank officials. “The number of qualified doctors moving abroad to work has been high over the years,” said Fred Matiangi, Kenyan cabinet secretary for education. “Nine sub-Saharan African countries have ended up losing US$2 billion as clinicians seek work in more prosperous nations,” he said, adding that Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have suffered the worst losses from the departure of trained medical experts. Speaking at last week’s 6th Annual Medical Education Partnership Symposium in Nairobi, Matiangi’s remarks raise concerns last reported in 2011 that countries such as the US, UK, Australia, and Canada could be benefiting from the recruitment of African doctors while Africa’s healthcare system languishes. His estimations also call into question the effectiveness of the code of practice adopted by the World Health Organisation in 2010 to reduce the impact of international recruitment of healthcare workers in developing countries. Failure to halt the flow of doctors leaving the African healthcare system has meant many countries remain heavily reliant on international aid, which can be slow to respond to emerging health emergencies such as the current cases of yellow fever and bird flu sweeping west, central, and southern Africa. Mirela Hasibra, an emergency and rehabilitation officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation told Development Finance that just US$5.7 million has been received after an appeal for US$20 million was made to stem the outbreak of bird flu in west and central Africa. This includes US$1 million from the African Development Bank, US$2.54 million from USAID, and US$2.16 million of its own funds. Meanwhile, in a separate analysis of World Bank data from 2015, the void left by an exodus of skilled health workers has contributed to an increase in outbound medical tourism revenue that is costing Africa upwards of US$1 billion. Head of the World Bank Group’s health in Africa initiative, Professor Khama Rogo, said that many countries are effectively exporting money and patients to countries like India, where the private health sector is flourishing, leaving Africa’s own sector behind. “The Indian private sector is enjoying the benefits of sickness from the African continent. [Twenty-five] percent of the passenger loads on major airlines Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines are medical tourists,” Professor Rogo said.
By Adam Pitt
Photo: Ian Barbour