Keeping African doctors in Africa

Keeping African doctors in Africa

Pearl Alice is live blogging from the Conference of African Finance and Health Ministers in Tunis, Tunisia this week.

Yesterday in Tunis at the Conference of African Finance and Health Ministers, the Global Health Force Alliance launched its “Strategy for the Second Phase – 2013-2016” to continue to address the global health workforce shortage that is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa. The first phase was launched in 2006-2011 to spur a “Decade of Action” as part of the Human Resources for Health movement.

This is particularly important because African countries have lost about $2.6 billion dollars training doctors who are now living in western countries, says the British Medical Journal. A staggering 25 to 50 percent of African-born doctors are working overseas. Zimbabwe and South Africa have the most doctors living abroad, while Australia, Canada, the UK and the US are the main beneficiaries.

Why do these physicians, nurses, dentists and others leave their countries to work abroad? The reasons are many: better pay, working conditions, political stability and quality of life. The story of Dr. Kunj Desai in Lusaka, Zambia gives some insight:

As an idealistic, energetic young doctor, Desai imagined he would spend his career in Zambia, serving those in desperate need. But over the months at the hospital, he found himself fantasizing about another life — as a doctor in America. And in 2004, after he finished his internship, Desai quit his job at the hospital and began studying for the exams for a training position at an American hospital. Even while he did so, he told himself that after his stint in America, he would return to Zambia. His fellow Zambians, he knew, suffer from some of the gravest health crises in the world, not least of which is that Zambia’s doctors tend to leave the country and never come back. “After completing residency training in the United States, I hope to return to Zambia and work where the need is the greatest, the rural areas,” he wrote in a personal statement when applying for jobs in the United States in 2005. “I am Zambian, and I am committed to improving the quality of care that fellow Zambians receive.”

According to the newly launched Strategy, by 2016, the Alliance will feel accomplished if 2.6 to 3.5 million additional health workers have been trained. The Alliance will use advocacy, catalytic action and communications to promote results and accountability in the global health workforce movement.

Meanwhile, organizations like the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas, representing more than 4,000 physicians, dentists and allied health workers, has as part of its mission, addressing health issues in their native Nigeria.

More from this conference to come soon. Stay tuned to the ONE Blog for more.

Pictured at top: This Sierra Leonean surgeon performs procedures for women with obstetric fistula in Freetown. Her country needs her expertise, but many doctors choose to live overseas because of the quality of life.

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