Intended for healthcare professionals


Brain drain and health professionals

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 02 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:499

A global problem needs global solutions

  1. Tikki Pang, director,
  2. Mary Ann Lansang, executive director,
  3. Andy Haines, dean
  1. Research Policy and Cooperation, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
  2. INCLEN Trust, Manila, Philippines
  3. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT

    Migration of medical professionals from developing countries has become a major concern. This brain drain worsens the already depleted healthcare resources in poor countries and widens the gap in health inequities worldwide. It is time that international organisations collaborated to protect the value of this “intellectual property”: where medical professionals cannot be dissuaded from moving, the country that trained them should at least gain from their movement.

    In Africa alone, where health needs and problems are greatest, around 23 000 qualified academic professionals emigrate annually.1 Information from South African medical schools suggests that a third to a half of its graduates emigrate to the developed world.2 The loss of nurses has been even more extreme—for example, more than 150 000 Filipino nurses3 and 18 000 Zimbabwean nurses4 work abroad. A recent report from the United Kingdom estimated that 31% of its doctors and 13% of its nurses are born overseas; in London the figures are 23% and 47% respectively.5 These reported figures are likely to be underestimates as many migrate unofficially.

    The cost implications are significant. With 600 of its medical …

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