updated 1/26/2005 4:03:19 PM ET 2005-01-26T21:03:19

Rich countries poach doctors and nurses that poor nations spend millions to train, taxing already underfunded, over-stretched hospitals in Africa and elsewhere, according to a report released Wednesday.

The International Organization for Migration, a private group that often works closely with the United Nations on immigration and refugee issues, also said in its report that the practice means Europe and the United States get health workers at a bargain.

The IOM estimated it would have cost rich nations about $184,000 to train each of the estimated 3 million professionals educated in poor countries now working in the developed world, for a “staggering” total savings of $552 billion.

Poor nations, meanwhile, spend $500 million a year training health workers, according to the report presented at a two-day meeting to discuss the impact of the migration of Africans.

Training investment lost
“Emigration of health care professionals is a cause of particular concern for Africa with developed countries deliberately recruiting health personnel from the region, partly to offset domestic shortages,” said the report, by Ndioro Ndiaye, deputy director general of the International Organization for Migration.

The International Organization for Migration said 21,000 Nigerian doctors are working in the United States, and more doctors from Benin work in France than in their own country.

In all, the report said, 23,000 African health professionals emigrate every year, “leaving their own stretched health service in dire straits.”

In Nigeria, health workers blame mismanagement by a succession of corrupt military and civilian regimes for the economic woes of the past two decades that have continued to force them abroad.

Poor salaries are paid late and overworked doctors have to work with outdated equipment, leaving most dissatisfied and eager to leave, said John Adebowale, a general practitioner at the Lagos Island Hospital in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.

Skilled, experienced personnel leave
“Last year we lost two of our best surgeons who went abroad and nobody has been able to do the things they did,” said Adebowale.

Many more nurses also left, some going to the Gulf States and others to Europe and America, he added.

“It is usually the most skilled and experienced who leave. We lose their skills and there’s no one to train new people,” said Adebowale.

For those health professionals left behind it means more work. More than 80 percent of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day and can’t afford expensive privately run hospitals providing relatively better service. They flock to government-subsidized hospitals, such as Lagos Island Hospital, where over-stretched staff barely meet overwhelming demand.

Seeking remedies for brain drain
Ndiaye told The Associated Press that the IOM is working to have rich countries pay for professionals from poor countries to return home and work there for an unspecified time each year.

She said Belgium already has such an arrangement with its former colonies Rwanda and Burundi.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the “brain drain” affects all countries, but hits Africa harder.

“The fact that we have limited resources also increases the relative cost of education and training. So when skilled professionals migrate we are doubly affected,” Meles said.

It is estimated that by 2025 one in 10 Africans will work outside their own country.

Many professionals from poor countries migrate to work in rich countries because of better pay offered for their skills, better work conditions and to flee political oppression.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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