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Brain Drain Not to Blame for Weak African Health Care

Interviewee: Michael Clemens, Research fellow at the Center for Global Development
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson, News Editor
August 21, 2008

Many of sub-Saharan Africa's skilled workers leave the continent in favor of highly paid jobs in the developed world. The migration of skilled health workers, in particular, negatively affects the delivery of health care in sub-Saharan Africa, public health experts say. But new research suggests that this so-called brain drain may not be as detrimental as commonly thought. Michael Clemens, research fellow at the Center for Global Development, who is studying this issue, argues his research shows the reasons for weak health care systems on the continent are internal. He says:
•    There is a positive relationship between the number of African health workers inside a particular country and outside that country. Countries with high number of doctors outside, such as South Africa, also have high numbers of doctors inside the country.
•    There is a huge disparity in the skilled health professionals in urban and rural areas. In Kenya, 85 percent of doctors live in Nairobi or Mombasa.
•    African health professionals are trained to do work overseas and in urban areas, when the most prevalent African health problems could be treated by community health workers.
•    Rich countries should help African countries give its doctors rural health care subsidies.
•    Rich countries could also help build regional centers of excellence to train health workers.

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