28 February, 2008

Pay For the Training

There has been considerable debate in the local Zambian media over the report in the Lancett medical journal of the cost to Africa of the drain of medical practitioners to the advanced western nations. Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and United States of America have received considerable criticism in the letters to the editor and on talkback radio. BBC World Service Africa has been a real voice for African communities concerned about the loss of skilled persons to advanced countries.

This problem is quite acute. It affects not only doctors, but also a whole range of other skilled and professionally trained people.

Recruitment agencies come to countries such as Zambia from the developed nations. They offer big salaries – in comparison to what is paid locally. Many African trained doctors are extremely overworked and very under prepared for the nature of their work. The curriculum that they trained under is dominated by western medicine with equipment that the majority will never see in their working life if they stayed in Africa. They are forced to forget most of that and work at a very basic level of medical practice treating diseases that often did not enter their western centric curriculum. For all this they are paid a pittance.

It is no wonder that when aggressive recruiting agencies from the west offer them seemingly good salaries and attractive working conditions – for a fee or commission paid to the agent on behalf of the recruiting hospital/government department – these professionals move. They leave their country of training with its great needs for the comparative luxury of the bait dangled before them.

For most, it is a difficult decision. They know their own country needs their services. However, they are frustrated about their training and the relatively poor salaries they receive. They are overworked and under equipped. They rationalise that they can send money back to their families and colleagues and still support medicine in their own country.

I do not blame these doctors – and other professionals. However, I do blame western governments and their spin-offs the recruiting agencies.

Why? Because the western governments are getting trained doctors without contributing to their training. It has cost huge amounts to train these doctors, and then they are simply recruited and brought to another country. No compensation is paid to the African country for the training they have provided. This is colonialism in all its worst forms – admittedly a different form. Nevertheless, it is still the North exploiting the South. The raw materials they are taking are human capital that they have not paid for.

I believe the Australian government (or any advanced western government) and recruiting agencies should pay the governments of the countries they have recruited doctors from a compensation for the training of the professionals.
Perhaps then western governments would put more planning and thought into training more doctors in their owncountries if they had to compensate poorer countriesd for poaching skills without paying for them. This is exploitation at its worst.


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