Buenos Aires hosted this year’s World Congress of Psychiatry and I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on Brain Drain by Dr. Afzal Javed, co-chair of the section on Psychiatry in Developing Countries of the World Psychiatric Association. I was impressed by what he had to say.
Here's a summary of the notes I took during his lecture:
- What is brain drain? In the medical field, brain drain is the migration of health professionals from developing countries to developed ones, especially the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. This started around the 1950s and it has become a major problem since. Internal migration is responsible for brain drain also existing within the same country. Many doctors move from rural areas to the big cities, where there are better universities, job offers and living conditions.
- Why is it a problem? Because many developing countries have a shortage of health professionals to begin with, and the migration of doctors and nurses to foreign lands leaves their native country understaffed, thus increasing global inequities in access to health care. This means, in a nutshell, the wealthy keep getting healthier and the poor keep getting sicker.
- Why does brain drain exist in the first place? Because the general working and living conditions and salaries of health professionals in developing countries are inferior to those offered overseas. Also, since the cost of medical education is much lower in the developing world, it is cheaper for developed countries to import foreign doctors than to invest in educating native students and training local professionals. Some even go as far as to say that, by exporting physicians, the developing countries are actually subsidizing healthcare in the developed world.
- What can be done? Freedom of movement is a right and migration is inevitable. They key lies in its regulation and management. Both developing and developed countries have things to offer. These strengths can be further developed by working together in partnerships to improve education, training, infrastructure and employment opportunities. The ultimate goal of cooperation should be to provide more and better healthcare to every single person. After all, isn’t that what we all want?
I would like to thank Dr. Javed and Dr. Riese for their help and encouragement.
*This blog was updated on 15 November, 2011 to correct a typographical error.