Monday, June 27, 2005

Health Care's Brain Drain

Dr. James Johnson, chairman of the British Medical Association, said today that the practice of hiring doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals from the developing world in order to fill vacancies in Britain and the United States amounts to "the rape of the poorest countries" and constitutes "obscene exploitation" of the developing world. "It is completely pointless for the UK to give $300m in aid to Africa if we then systematically rob them of their most precious resource: the skilled people who have the practical ability to prevent and treat disease," Johnson said.

Many doctors educated in India, the Middle East, and East Asia are practicing in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. (The surgeon who expertly repaired my detached retina two years ago was educated in India.) They are welcomed--and often even recruited--because they help to fill critical shortages in the health care systems of the developed world. However, their departure from their countries of origin is a form of "brain drain" that deprives those countries of the benefit of their investment in the medical education of some of their best and brightest nationals.

Frankly, it is not clear to me what the solution to this problem is beyond asking the developed world to invest more in health care both for itself (so that more doctors and nurses can be trained here) and for those living in the developing world.