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68,000 Work Permits to African Medical Staff since 2000

How does this affect Africa’s crippled health service?

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03 March 2009 – Immigration minister Phil Woolas has revealed that a total of 67,685 work permits have been given to African medical staff since 2000.

Doctors and nurses from South Africa received 21,970 permits: 17,845 went to Zimbabweans; Nigerians accounted for 9,740; 4,475 were given to Ghanaians; Mauritius got 2,655 and Zambians received 2,575.

The overall figure however contains staff that was already in the country and moved jobs or gained an extension of permit, as well as staff that was granted a permit but did not take up the job, or that may have been refused entry clearance or further leave to remain, Mr. Woolas added.

However, the figure does not necessarily represent the total number of people given permits, because some were for staff who moved jobs and others were extensions, said Mr Woolas.

The figures were disclosed in a written parliamentary answer to Labour’s Hilary Armstrong, revealed Press Associated.

They bring up the delicate and at the same time crucial issue of the critical shortage of medical staff, which is crippling sub-Saharan Africa’s health service.

Doctors and nurses coming out of the continent’s training schools are sucked up by the West, lured away to work in hospitals in Britain, the US, Australia and other countries by the ten-fold salaries, in an exodus fuelled by the worldwide demand for medical staff.

Research by the Center for Global Development in the US last year discovered many countries in Africa had more medical staff working overseas than at home.

The Lancet has revealed in 2005 that half of the 16,000 extra staff recruited by the NHS in recent years come from outside the UK and Europe. More than 30 per cent of practising doctors and nurses in the UK were trained outside the country, compared with 5 per cent in France and Germany, and the demand for health workers from overseas is increasing.

The damaging effect of the chronic health staff shortages on sub-Saharan Africa is easily exposed in the critical state of the continent’s hospitals – grossly overcrowded clinics and wards which mean long waits, poorer care and problems missed.

With a shortage of over one and a half million health workers in Africa – most noticeably lacking in rural areas where 80% of Africa’s population lives – there are many areas that will have no access to health workers who can provide life saving education or medical support, according to Amref.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) set threshold of 2.3 health workers per 1,000 people. The majority of African countries are currently well below this minimum threshold; many are not even at one third of this level.

"To poach and rely on highly skilled foreign workers from poor countries in the public sector is akin to the crime of theft," The Lancet noted.

Yesterday, 2 March, Health Minister Ann Keen announced that more overseas junior doctors will be able to take up a two-year training placement in the NHS.

The Medical Training Initiative (MTI), that provided 250 time-limited placements for doctors from developing countries last year, will now be expanded in stages to provide up to 750 opportunities.

The expansion of MTI will make it possible for the international medical graduates from English-speaking developing countries where medical training is not widely available, to secure more vital training and work experience in the UK.

Hopefully, this will enable them to return to their countries with added experience and the will to make a difference.

To allow this, it would be helpful if G8 leaders took concrete steps towards increasing health workforce coverage to reach the World Health Organisation (WHO) threshold, as they had committed to in their last meeting.

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