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WORLD HEALTH DAY: Africa Losing Skills to Europe

Stefania Bianchi

BRUSSELS, Apr 7 2006 (IPS) - A leading European parliamentarian is calling on the European Union to halt the brain drain of medics from Africa.

As the World Health Organisation (WHO) made health workers its focus for World Health Day Friday (Apr. 7), British Labour member of the European Parliament (MEP) Glenys Kinnock said the European Commission, the European Union (EU) executive, must end recruitment of health workers from sub-Saharan Africa, and press for a “global code of conduct” on ethical recruitment.

“There are more nurses from Malawi in Manchester than in Malawi, and more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than Ethiopia,” Kinnock told IPS. Last year Kenya lost 2,998 graduate nurses to other countries – mostly to the United States and Britain.

Kinnock is calling for incentives for key health workers to stay in their home countries. “In spite of the terrible burden of disease in Africa, they only have 0.6 percent of the world’s registered healthcare workers,” she said.

“The recruitment of health professionals and the scourge of HIV/AIDS are continuing to prolong the crisis afflicting already fragile health systems in developing countries.”

Kinnock said this brain drain is a major obstacle to providing quality healthcare in Africa because countries are losing their most qualified and experienced nurses.

Raising wages in African countries to levels comparable with the industrialised world is not an option, but more funding must be channeled into the health system, and efforts made to decentralise healthcare and to support regional development, she said.

“Unless life expectancy can be raised, these countries will never be in a position to develop their economies and rebuild their countries,” she said.

In recent years there has been a considerable net flow of skills out of Africa. One consequence is that the losing nations now lack the skills base to educate their young, and to develop their own economies. Seventy-five countries have less than 2.5 health workers for every 1,000 people.

Last month EU commissioner for freedom, security and justice Franco Frattini outlined proposals to promote recruitment of highly educated professionals. Frattini has asked for the creation of a green card for researchers, engineers and doctors.

“I am concerned by Commissioner Frattini’s recent proposals,” Kinnock said. “We need the European Council to tell us what action they are taking to ensure that the immigration strategies of EU countries are not proving counterproductive, poaching critical health workers from the world’s poorest countries.”

Kinnock plans to place a resolution in the European Parliament to demand that the EU raises its proposal to spend 6 percent of its development budget on health and education for the next seven years to a minimum of 20 percent.

Under the EU’s new financial perspectives – or budget – health and education is considered a part of human and social development.. This head also includes a budget for gender issues, culture, employment, children and youth.

“In this parliament we cannot countenance a situation where member states and the Commission grandstand about our contribution to making poverty history and at the same time refuse to agree that 20 percent of development funding should support health and basic education,” Kinnock said.

“The Millennium Development Goals will never be met if health is not made an urgent priority. We want a bold decision on World Health Day for the EU to honour its commitment to tackling crippling disease that continues to destroy Africa.”

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