African Physician Migration to High-Income Nations: Diverse Motives to Emigrate (“We Are not Florence Nightingale”) or Stay in Africa (“There Is No Place Like Home”); Comment on “Doctor Retention: A Cross-sectional Study of How Ireland Has Been Losing the Battle”

Document Type : Commentary

Authors

1 Department of Health Services, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

2 Department of Global Health, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

3 Office of the Dean, Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

Abstract

Research in assessing the global and asymmetric flows of health workers in general, and international medical graduates in particular, is fraught with controversy. The complex goal of improving health status of the citizens of home nations while ensuring the right of health workers to migrate generates policy discussions and decisions that often are not adequately informed by evidence. In times of global public health crises like the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic, the need for equitable distribution and adequate training of health workers globally becomes even more pressing. Brugha et al report suboptimal training and working conditions among Irish and foreign medical doctors practicing in Ireland, while predicting large-scale outward migration. We comment on health personnel migration and retention based on our own experience in this area of research. Drawing from our examination of medical migration dynamics from sub-Saharan Africa, we argue for greater consideration of health workforce retention in research and policy related to resource-limited settings. The right to health suggests the need to retain healthcare providers whose education was typically subsidized by the home nation. The right to migrate may conflict with the right to health. Hence, a deeper understanding is needed as to healthcare worker motives based on interactions of psychosocial processes, economic and material determinants, and quality of work environments.

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