Can the Diaspora Have An Impact on Africa’s Health? From Brain Drain to Brain Gain

It is now an obvious truism that the UK’s National Health Service just about remains standing on its feet due to the presence of medical health professionals from countries in Asia and Africa.

Indeed the ethical dilemma of healthcare systems in developed countries, propped up by a brain drain of highly qualified and desperately wanted professionals from developing countries seems nowadays to be recognized without much comment.

It suits the developed countries such as the UK and America and also suits medical professionals involved, who are better remunerated abroad than they could dream of being in their countries of origin.

Still despite this brain drain, African countries have ambitious strategic health plans, but with inadequate healthcare systems, poorly resourced and poorly managed primary and secondary care.  Newly qualified medical doctors do not have a strata of experienced, senior consultants to support them in hospitals. Perhaps not surprisingly, a significant number of medical doctors with experience and seniority emigrate to developed countries for better pay and conditions to raise families. It’s said anecdotaly that there are more Ghanaian doctors in New York state than there are doctors currently working in the whole of Ghana. Alas, the situation is replicated across many countries in Africa.  So how could this significant resource of medical professionals in the Diaspora have an impact on the Healthcare systems in Africa?

Many have tried to support the weak healthcare systems in their countries of origin, but such help would benefit from strategic planning and support.  We are all aware of people who made the effort to gather good quality incubators, profiling beds, theatre equipment, or other medical necessities in perfectly good working order, but discarded as obsolete from UK hospitals.  At some expense people have sent equipment to rural hospitals in the hope of improving patient outcomes in their areas of origin.

Unfortunately many of these activities frustrate the Diaspora, as they realize expensive equipment requires a level of technical know how missing in rural hospitals, the frequent lack of regular electricity, the inadequate supervision leading to equipment being misused or being stolen.

The World Medical Association is on a drive to strengthen National Medical Associations, so that like the British Medical Association, they begin to influence the health agenda in African countries.

Perhaps they could support the efforts of medical professionals from the Diaspora and enable them to strengthen poor health systems.  Apart from transporting equipment, there are many well qualified, well experienced doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals who could support training and development by offering 2 weeks a year of their time to provide lectures. Such initiatives may be a drop in the ocean, but they are a start – one which many medical diasporans are already doing, but which need much more support and resources.

Can the Diaspora impact Africa’s Health? From Brain Drain to Brain Gain – The East Africa Health Forum’s conference takes place on 13th September 2014 in London