Brain Drain of Healthcare Workers

Published: August 1st 2008 | Updated: August 4th 2008

In the MacArthur Foundation's Fall 2008 newsletter, which focuses on Global Migration, Peggy Clark, Director of Health Programs at Realizing Rights, talks about the brain drain of healthcare workers from developing countries.

"It???s a huge issue, and it???s an interesting one because it???s being felt by countries all over the world, both by wealthy developed countries and developing ones," she said, "countries have to work together on it".

Developing countries are adversely affected by a 'Health Worker brain drain'The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there is a nearly 4.5 million shortfall in healthcare workers globally and 57 countries, most of which are in Africa, have a severe shortage.

Realizing Rights was chosen by the WHO to take a lead role as secretariat for the Global Health Workforce Alliance Advisory Council, which is developing a framework for a global code of practice for health worker migration.

As part of its work, Realizing Rights is assessing recent agreements between countries that are trying to address the issue. For instance, a 2003 memorandum of understanding between the United Kingdom and South Africa requires the UK to send grants, along with health administrators and teachers, to South Africa to help improve infrastructure and train healthcare workers. The agreement also allows South African workers to return home for a month to help teach and train their fellow citizens, a popular policy for workers who want to maintain contact with their homeland.

A similar agreement between Norway and Poland is in the process of being finalized, Clark said. "So they are very new, all of these new kinds of policy instruments, but they are about sending and receiving countries starting to talk to one another about what some of the solutions might be."

While the framework of a code of practice is just the beginning of a lengthy process to create binding agreements between countries, Clark is optimistic about what it could achieve. "It feels like we could really have an impact," she said. "It feels like we could really propose some solutions that would model a way to talk about migration that would respect those who leave for a better life and recognize the responsibilities of receiving countries."

Related Links and Articles

Mary Robinson talks in the British Medical Journal about a proposed global code of practice on international recruitment of health workers - November 3rd 2008

More health workers needed to fight AIDS - Reuters, August 4th 2008

Brain Drain of Healthcare Workers - July 2008

Fall 2008 MacArthur Newsletter: Global Migration

Published in The Lancet - Forging Solutions to Health Worker Migration - February 22, 2008