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[afro-nets] Southern Africa: Band aid for medical brain drain

  • From: "Claudio Schuftan" <claudio@hcmc.netnam.vn>
  • Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2006 11:54:47 +0700

Southern Africa: Band aid for medical brain drain

From: RKoppenleitner

JOHANNESBURG , 16 August (IRIN) - New laws introduced by the British government this week are unwittingly giving the southern African region a temporary reprieve from the brain drain of medical staff.

The new laws stipulate that employers in Britain will only be granted work permits for foreign nurses if they can prove that no suitable British or European Union candidate can be found.

Regional nursing associations in southern Africa said the new legislation, which tightened employment regulations in the United Kingdom (UK) for nursing staff from 150 countries would not address the "push factor" that was the underlying cause of the malaise.

The British government said the law would safeguard jobs for its local nursing staff. Reports said 80 percent of Britain's qualified local nurses were unable to find work in their profession, which coincides with employment data showing that unemployment levels are flirting with the politically sensitive one million mark.

English language skills in many southern African countries, combined with nursing skills, make the region a major recruitment ground.

The exodus of medical staff from Zimbabwe has been particularly severe. The country is in the grip of an economic meltdown, with unemployment at more than 70 percent and inflation hovering at about 1,000 percent.

Zimbabwe's community development minister, Eunice Chitambira, said between 70 percent and 90 percent of university graduates, mostly in the fields of medicine, education and engineering, had left the country.

A representative of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, who declined to be named, said the primary cause of medical staff migration were the "push factors" of low salaries and poor working conditions - the cure for the brain drain was in the hands of the region's governments and not Britain's new laws.

"There may be a slowdown in the rate of migration because most people prefer the UK, but this will be short-lived because very soon people will be looking for other destinations," .

"Those who want to leave the less-paying and more stressful jobs in Africa can still go to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where the demand for health staff is equally high and better packages are still on offer. What the UK did is like closing one hole and leaving a maze of others wide open."

The problem is that beyond talking, our government is doing nothing to improve salaries and working conditions. People will move as long as grievances are ignored.

Although South Africa draws healthcare staff from the region, more than 10,000 South African nurses are working in the UK, with many others in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. The ratio of nurses to patients is about 577 in South Africa's richest province, Gauteng.

In terms of the new legislation nurses have to re-apply for their positions once their work permits expire, and preference will be given to British and EU nurses.

The nursing shortfall in the remote regions is in some places being filled through the use of volunteer nurses from the United States, Austria and Cuba.

Claudio Schuftan