Public Health & Health Systems

Rich countries deplete Africa’€™s medical recourses

Rich countries have saved billions of dollars by employing doctors from African countries that have in turn lost thousands of physicians new research has shown.

Conservative estimates by Wilma Meeus and David Sanders at the University of the Western Cape’€™s School of Public Health show that the United States has saved at least U$3,86-million(R30,9 million) in training fees by employing doctors from Nigeria which has lost 21 000 doctors to the superpower.

Nigeria in turn incurred a loss of U$420 million (R3,4 million) while Zimbabwe conservatively lost U$16,8 million (R134,4 million) through the loss of 840 doctors. According to the United Nations, 31 of 53 African countries have less than 32 doctors per 100 000 people with 17 of these countries having less than 10 doctors per 100 000 people.

In 41 countries there are less than 135 nurses per 100 000 people with 17 countries having less than 50 nurses per 100 000 people.

Meeus said researchers had found that Africa was set to become a major source of migrants during the 21st century and that 33 800 people migrated annually from Africa since the beginning of the 1990s, of whom about 20 000 to 23 000 are highly skilled.

She pointed out that the available data was incomplete and that it was not possible to establish over what time period the migration occurred.

‘€œIt is known that 21 000 Nigeria physicians left for the USA, the Sudan lost 17% of its doctors and Ethiopia and Zambia both lost about 50% of its doctors (but the period over which this occurred is lacking),’€ Meeus said.

Meeus found that between 1985 and 1995, 60% of Ghana’€™s medical graduates left. In 1999, 78% of physicians in South Africa’€™s rural areas were non-South Africans. During the 1990s Zimbabwe lost 840 of 1 200 medical graduates while at least 2 114 South African nurses left for the United Kingdom during 2001.

A United Nations document published in 2000 it stated: ‘€œIt can be extrapolated that between 1985 and 1990, on the 60 000 professionals who emigrated, the continent lost U$1,2 billion (R9,6 billion). This represents the reverse of what development aid tries to achieve through transfer of technology and human resources.’€

The document warned that this development paradox, combined with the inability of the African countries in building, retaining and utilising indigenous capacities critical to Africa’€™s growth and development would deprive Africa of its vital development resources and make it more heavily dependent on foreign expertise.

In the 1970s, the US government calculated that it gained U$20 000 (R160 000) for every skilled worker from a developing country.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that for each professional aged between 25 and 35 years, U$184 000 (R1,5 million) is saved in training costs by developed countries.

Meeus said that the 27 richest developed countries have a workforce of about three million professional educated in developing countries.

Using the conservative figure of U$20 000 (R160 000) per person educated outside these 27 countries, the transfer of wealth from developing to developed countries is about U$60 billion (R480 billion).

The savings to these rich countries is a staggering U$552 billion (R4 416 billion) if the UNCTAD figure of U$184 000 (R1,5 million) is used.

The United Nations also found that Africa spent an estimated 35% of overseas donor assistance annually, about U$4 billion (R32 billion), on salaries of 100 000 foreign experts (all sectors, not only health) to replace lost capacity, to build capacity and/or provide technical assistance.

About the author

Anso Thom