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How to plug the brain drain


A substantial part of the global workforce is born, raised and trained in emerging markets – and then promptly leaves to work elsewhere. How can you plug the brain drain?

Africa is increasingly known as a producer of human resources, but not so much as a user. Talent is leaving the nursing schools, and heading to more lucrative destinations. It’s a route which is often aided by countries at both ends of the trip.

According to Dr Khama Rogo, the former World Bank Group health advisor who addressed the IFC conference in South Africa last month in a keynote address, Kenya and South Africa are two of the largest producers of talent in the world – the former sees 10,000 nurses graduate every year – but the government can only afford to give jobs to a meagre 10%, hence the mass exodus of people leaving both the profession and the country. 

Elsewhere, the CEO of a Mozambican hospital told HBI that the country is suffering from an acute shortage of radiologists.

Far from discouraging this, other countries appear to be willing participants. Take the UK where, for the first time, the UK Royal College of Nurses induced a strike. Following talks, the president of Kenya signed a treaty with then prime minister Boris Johnson allowing easier recruitment and travel of Kenyan nurses into the UK. 

More investment in education and training is key, and the private sector must partner with educational institutions in emerging markets to generate specialised, skilled labour. 

“The problem isn’t production, it’s how do we pay them?” said Rogo. “If you want to improve services, the most productive approach would be to get skilled health workers, not equipment. Increasingly the private sector is taking over training of workers in emerging countries. That takeover has one problem – the cost of training now is impossible, especially for the poor. This is a sustainability challenge. The question is how do we work in this area so we produce and use and keep?” 

There is no shortage of talent. What is needed is investment. Private sector, over to you!

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Michaila Byrne or call 0207 183 3779.