Africa doctor child health care UN Photo/Tobin Jones/Flickr

Reversing Africa’s Medical Brain Drain

There is understandable consternation over Uganda’s plans to send almost 300 health workers to Trinidad and Tobago in exchange for help developing its oil fields. But the truth is that Uganda may have stumbled on a policy that could actually benefit both the health-care sector and the country.

OXFORD – There is understandable consternation over Uganda’s plan to send almost 300 health workers to Trinidad and Tobago. The plan reportedly includes four of Uganda’s 11 registered psychiatrists, 20 of its 28 radiologists, and 15 of its 92 pediatricians. In return, the Caribbean country (which has a doctor-to-patient ratio 12 times higher than Uganda’s) will help Uganda exploit its recently discovered oil fields.

Uganda’s foreign ministry says the agreement is part of its mandate to promote the country’s interests abroad through the transfer of skills and technology, as well as an opportunity to earn foreign exchange by sourcing employment for its citizens. But Uganda’s international donors are not convinced; the United States has voiced strong concern, and Belgium has suspended development aid to Uganda’s health-care sector.

Two of my friends, a gynecologist and a pediatrician, have applied to go. Had I still been working with them in Uganda, I might have been tempted to join the exodus. Uganda’s health-care professionals are talented and highly qualified. But they often work in appalling conditions at great personal sacrifice. So it is not surprising that they become disheartened and seek professional opportunities elsewhere. They know that the status quo is failing, and that something has to change.

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