Earlier this year, Minister of Health, Babatunde Osotimehinin, in response to the decades-old "brain drain" of the continent's healthworkers, urged developed nations to invest in African medical schools and facilities. His request, is largely based on the belief that the continent's pervasive health woes are linked to the emigration of its health professionals. The draining of Africa's intellectual capital has also been witnessed in other fields as well, including business and academia. Current opinion holds that the flight professionals and academics to western shores is a destabilising force in developing nations. While developing nations invest resources into the training of its professionals, developed nations are poised to reap the benefits of such harvests.
Lately, several have begun to challenge such notions. Emeka Okafor, of Africa Unchained, asks if the brain drain might have some beneficial outcomes in the form of flow of capital through remittances, collaborations between foreign-based Africans and institution in their home countries, etc. Interestingly enough, some who aim to fight the continent's brain drain have been, at some point, primary beneficiaries of this phenomenon.
Within the arena of healthcare, the premise that brain drain of health workers equals poor health outcomes, is a a notion that also requires re-examination. Within the Nigerian context (anecdotal evidence alert!!!), I have met recent medical school grads who seek employment in more lucrative alternative fields. While noble, the pursuit of a career in medicine oftentimes fails to support its heroes. Beyond this, the success of a nation's health system depends on far much more than its healthcare workers.
Over the weekend, Foreign Policy, debunked a number of myths associated with the emigration of healthcare workers (an by extension, other professionals) to western countries. An argument I found of particular interest was that against the idea that developing nations waste resources on healthcare professionals who emigrate to western countries.
"The belief that skilled emigrants must cause public losses in the amount of their training cost is based on a series of stereotypes. First, large numbers of skilled emigrants are funded by themselves or by foreign scholarships. A survey of African-born members of the American Medical Association conducted by one of the authors found that about half of them acquired their medical training outside their country of birth. Second, many skilled emigrants serve the countries they come from for long periods before departure. The same survey found that African physicians in the United States and Canada who were trained in their country of birth spent, on average, over five years working in that country prior to emigration. This constitutes a substantial return on all investment in their training."