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HEALTH: Lungile Ndaki, "There's no way you can stop people from moving"

Skilled health workers are in desperately short supply in many African countries
JOHANNESBURG, 10 June 2011 (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of health workers have left their countries in the developing world in search of better opportunities abroad. Lungile Ndaki, 58, trained as a nurse in South Africa but eight years ago she moved to the UK to take up a post at a private hospital in Bath. She talked to IRIN on the phone about what pushed her to make the move, and why she is now considering going home.

"I only worked in the public sector when I was training. When I completed my training I was pregnant… and the only way you could get a job [in the public sector] as a newly qualified nurse was to be sent to rural clinics, and I didn’t want to work in a rural area. Most of my career I worked in private hospitals and I was earning about R5,000 or R6,000 (US$740 or $888) a month.

“I left for the first time in 1999 to come to the UK for a year… just to come and see what it was like; I worked in a public hospital in Birmingham. I went back to South Africa for four years and then I returned to England in 2003.

“Most nurses… come for the financial benefits. Myself, because I was divorced I just couldn’t make ends meet in South Africa with my salary.

“There is no comparison to working in South Africa - nurses in South Africa are highly skilled. When you come here you lose your skills because nursing here is quite restricted. They don’t let nurses handle many things - it is frustrating for most of us.

“Most nurses from South Africa end up working in nursing homes doing very basic work. They don’t come here for experience, they come for money and the nursing homes pay more because they can work overtime. The cost of living here is high and the salaries are not so great, but the reason we come here is because of the exchange rate.

“Now I’m working in Bath at a private hospital. I’ve been qualified for 30 plus years and I’m working with young girls - when you come here you’re treated as a second-class citizen. There is an element of racism. It takes time for people to accept you as a professional; because you’re from a third-world country they assume you know nothing.

“Now, because of the numbers [of patients] in South Africa with HIV and all those opportunistic illnesses, the workload is more, but the salaries have been revised. You actually earn more now in the public sector [than in the private sector] and there are more chances of professional development.

“I am thinking about coming back for professional and personal reasons. It’s lonely here, there’s no support system; you just work. I’d like to work in a community or in a private clinic where I can work normal hours, 9 to 5, and be able to just take it easy. I don’t want to be really working hard at my age. I would consider the public sector if I could work in a community and have good working conditions.

[Various initiatives aimed at discouraging the migration of health workers from developing countries have been introduced, but Lungile doubts they will have much impact.]

“There’s no way you can stop people from moving, I think adults should have a choice to do whatever they want. If I’d stayed in South Africa I wouldn’t have bought a house. Just leaving your country and going somewhere else is a learning curve."

ks/he

Theme(s): Health & Nutrition, Migration,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]