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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Halting Africa's health brain drain
Kenyan health minister Charity Ngilu
Ms Ngilu says African wages cannot compete with the West
Health ministers from throughout Africa are meeting in Switzerland in an effort to stop the continued drain of top health professionals from the continent.

Tens of thousands of doctors and nurses are leaving their native countries to work abroad, primarily in the UK and United States, leaving Africa's hospitals desperately short-staffed.

The meeting in Geneva is designed to find ways to combat the problem.

"We are asking that those [countries] who take people on who are already trained, should at least allow our governments to be part and parcel of what they are doing," Kenya's Health Minister Charity Ngilu told BBC World Service's Focus On Africa programme.

"Health centres are being left with no health workers."

Compensation

Ms Ngilu said that Kenya had only been retaining 10% of the medical staff who qualify there.

"Out of 6,000 doctors trained in Kenya, our public hospitals had only about 600," she said.

"It was only when we offered to pay a little more that we were able to raise that number to 1,200.

"That is still below the numbers that we should be having in our hospitals."

Victim of Paradise hotel bomb sits in hospital in Mombasa
Kenya's hospitals have recently had to cope with terrorist victims
She added that a similar thing was also happening in the country's nursing profession, with 4,000 nurses having left for the UK and United States.

She said her preference was that recruiting nations should be made to pay compensation.

"What I personally would like to see take place is that if we as a government are developing and training these health workers, then those governments who are hiring them should pay," Ms Ngilu stressed.

"We trained them, we spend our meagre resources - they should just pay back what we spend."

Unable to compete

Alternatively, Ms Ngilu said she would like to see an arrangement where developed countries put requests to African countries to train the staff they needed, although she conceded that that would not solve the problem of talented medics leaving the country.

She added that in the end the root of the problem remained money.

"We had to improve our compensation for the doctors - so much so that they have actually returned - we have now 600 who have now come back," she said.

"However, we're still not able to match the developed nations."




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