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ss triple helix - summer 2005,  The brain drain - A multilateral problem requiring a global response

The brain drain - A multilateral problem requiring a global response

As we approach the Millennium Summit this November, at which the world's leaders will look again at the progress being made towards the Millennium Development Goals, it is salient to remember that there are still many obstacles to seeing global poverty halved, major gains in reducing infant and maternal mortality and the elimination of major infectious disease epidemics (including HIV and malaria).

One obstacle is the continual haemorrhaging of doctors, nurses and others from Africa and Asia to Europe and North America. This exodus is depleting already fragile health services at a time of great need. As has been highlighted in Triple Helix before,[1,2] this is a multilateral problem and one that cannot be solved by blanket bans on immigration or clampdowns on active recruitment. It takes a global response, not just a national one.

At the recent G8 Summit in Gleneagles, CMF was signatory to a petition from the Washington based group, Physicians for Human Rights,[3] who are advocating for the leaders of the world's richest nations to address this crisis multilaterally. This includes stepping up multilateral aid to support health services in poor nations and helping those nations fund the training of their health professionals (in particular post-graduate training), as well as investing into the training, pay and conditions of health professionals in wealthy nations.

The UK is not alone in not training enough of home-grown doctors, nurses or dentists. The US has a projected shortfall of nigh on one million health professionals (around 800,000 nurses and 200,000 doctors) [4] between now and 2010. If that is only addressed by recruiting from overseas, the brain drain can only get worse.

The developed world is facing a number of genuine crises of our own – a dwindling health workforce, an ageing population and greater expectations of healthcare.[5] But rather than address this crisis, we have merely exported it to the poorest nations.

As Christians, we should not only be speaking out about this, but supporting the many Christian brothers and sisters from the developing world in medicine and other professions who are working alongside us. We should be looking at how we can help give back to their home countries the skilled health workforce that is so desperately needed.

  1. Toma G. African Healthcare Exodus. Triple Helix 2005;Winter:12-13
  2. Fouch S. Poaching Health Professionals. Triple Helix 2004;Autumn:4
  4. Dean C. Nursing in America: A Portrait of a Profession in Critical Condition. New York Times 2005; May 17
  5. Carvel J. Nurses' Leaders predict staffing crisis. Guardian 2005; April 25
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