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AFRICA: Alarm expressed at flight of health professionals

Addis Ababa, 27 January 2005 (IRIN) - Wealthy countries "deliberately" enlist doctors and nurses from poor nations, costing developing states US $500 million a year in lost training, a top UN official said on Wednesday.

Ndioro Ndiaye, deputy director-general of the International Organisation for Migration, said the loss "severely affects" Africa’s desperately overstretched health sector.

She added that the world's 27 most powerful countries – also members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - had saved a "staggering" $552 billion by employing professionals trained in developing countries.

"Emigration of health care professionals is a cause of particular concern for Africa, with developed countries deliberately recruiting health personnel from the region - partly to offset domestic shortages," Ndiaye said in a report presented to international migration experts at the UN in Addis Ababa. "Africa currently spends its meager resources to train all categories of health professionals, who then go on to work for developed countries."

According to Ndiaye, the UK drafted more than 8,000 nurses and midwives from outside of Europe in the year 2000. This was in addition to the 30,000 hired over previous years. Some 21,000 Nigerian doctors were working in the US the same year, while there were more doctors from Benin working in France than in their own country, she said.

"Such dramatic events add a new sense of urgency," Ndiaye added in her report, presented at the opening of a two-day summit trying to address the impact of African migration. She noted that "23,000 qualified health professionals emigrate from Africa annually - leaving their own stretched health service in dire straits".

According to the 2004 edition of the Human Development Report, from 1990-2003 there were fewer than 10 doctors for every 100,000 people in 24 of the 44 Sub-Saharan African countries for which such statistics were available.

At the other end of the scale, there were 164 doctors for every 100,000 persons in the UK, 279 in the US and 607 in Italy, according to the report, produced annually by the UN Development Programme.

The international conference is seeking to draw up new policies and strategies to "manage migration" in the 21st century. While experts stated that migration could have negative impacts, African countries also benefited, receiving more money in remittances from nationals living overseas than in development aid from wealthy nations.

However, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the impact of migration was felt acutely in Africa, where up to one-third of skilled workers and professionals have left their countries.

"Countries throughout the world are concerned about brain drain, but the consequences for African countries are perhaps more extreme given that we have relatively little human capacity compared to our needs," Meles said. "The fact that we have limited resources also increases the relative cost of education and training."

Theme (s): Health & Nutrition,

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

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