GlobalHealthAfrica

Africa’s Struggle With Medical “Brain Drain”

In Healthcare, Medicine on October 15, 2013 at 5:37 pm

In this post, Guest Blogger, Udo Obiechefu provides an inside look at Africa’s brain drain by interviewing an African-born physician studying overseas. Enjoy!

The “Brain Drain” is a common term used to describe the flight of human capital or the large scale emigration of individuals with technical expertise and/or education from a given region. Sub-Saharan Africa has been one of the chief victims of the brain drain over the last half century. It is estimated that one-fifth of African-born physicians and one-tenth of African-born nurses are currently practicing overseas. In this post, I sit down with Femi Taiwo, a current Master’s of Public Health candidate and former Senior Medical Officer with the Federal Medical Center in Lagos, Nigeria, to discuss his own story, his thoughts on Africa’s brain drain crisis, and his beliefs on what would encourage young, African medical professionals to return or choose to stay on the continent.

Profile

Name: Femi Taiwo

Age: 38

Degrees Earned:  MBBS (Nigeria, 2004), MPH (US, Dec. 2013)

Positions Held: Worked as a general practitioner (Senior Medical Officer) with Federal Medical Center, Lagos, Nigeria and also with a private clinic in Lagos (locum).

What was your motivation for choosing to further your education overseas?

  • My motivation was the desire for capacity building and to improve my then current job skills. Also, job satisfaction and good remunerations were among other factors considered.

Would you encourage more African medical professionals to move abroad or to practice their trade on the continent?

  • Yes, even though it is a decision for individual. I encourage more African medical professionals to move abroad even if it is for a brief period to see how things are being done differently. After this, they can return home to add value and expertise to medicine being practiced on the continent.

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Do you feel the quality of education in Nigeria adequately prepares medical professionals for the population they serve? Please explain

  • To some extent, yes. Nigeria is a developing country which is very rich in both human and natural resources, but due to poor and corrupt leadership, it’s medical practice is still very rudimentary. There are not enough hospitals and the few that exist are ill-equipped. A large percentage of the populace is living below the poverty line. So, the medical education is on par with the reality of the socioeconomic and political reality of Nigerian society. Here is an example: if a patient presented with a complaint of a persistent headache, here in the United States, a brain CT scan must be requested as part of the initial evaluation. The medical education in Nigeria and a host of other African countries will not teach that because of the socioeconomic situations of the vast majority of the populace (Remember, the majority of patients pay from their pockets because they lack medical insurance). Another example would be that in Nigeria, you would rather ask for a blood film for the malaria parasite because as they say “common things occur commonly”. It would amount to a total failure for any medical student in Nigeria to say that a brain CT scan will be his or her first line of investigation in a case of persistent headache.

What incentives do you think would encourage those in healthcare to stay in-country?

  • Incentives to keep those in healthcare to stay in-country would be to provide opportunities for self development, increase job satisfaction by providing updated medical equipment and technology, and provide adequate and commensurate remuneration. All the above can only be achieved if there is transparent governance, so political reform to ensure responsive, transparent governance is fundamental to achieving these aims.

What do you believe is the most pressing issue in African healthcare today and how can it be improved?

  • The most pressing issue in African healthcare today is access to quality care which is compounded by a lack of qualified health workers. This is made worse by the continuing brain drain and poor socioeconomic situation created by bad leadership across Africa. Solutions to this myriad of problems will have to begin by ensuring transparent governance, stop/reduce the brain drain in the health sector, improve the conditions of service, train more health workers, build more clinics and hospitals, and improve the socioeconomic conditions of the people through gainful employment.

References

Boahene, Kofi. “How African Doctors Can Cure Medical ‘brain Drain'” CNN. Cable News Network, 16 Apr. 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

“Africa the Loser in Brain Drain.” ITOnline RSS. N.p., 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

Mullan, Fitzhugh. “The Metrics of the Physician Brain Drain.” New England Journal of Medicine 353.17 (2005): 1810-818. Web.

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