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Thu 13 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Gulf countries named in 'criminal' poaching of health staff

Two GCC countries have been named and shamed in a blistering attack by leading public health researchers, accusing them of the ‘criminal' poaching of health workers from sub-Saharan Africa.

Two GCC countries have been named and shamed in a blistering attack by leading public health researchers, accusing them of the ‘criminal' poaching of health workers from sub-Saharan Africa.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were listed alongside the US, UK and Australia, as leading the charge in the recruitment of medical graduates from Africa, leaving the country's healthcare system swamped under the burden of HIV/AIDS.

The editorial, published in leading medical journal The Lancet, accused high-income countries such as Saudi and the UAE, of filling their healthcare vacancies at the expense of those in Africa.

"These countries have sustained their relatively high physician-to-population ratio by recruiting medical graduates from developing regions...over half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa do not meet the minimum acceptable physician to population ratio of one per 5,000," the authors wrote.

Labelling these recruitment efforts "a structured initiative ...clearly sanctioned by the countries that then accept these placements", the authors called for poaching to be "viewed as an international crime".

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are home to thousands of doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

While some have chosen to relocate themselves, others have been lured with offers of substantial pay increases, moving expenses and living allowances.

The report names a number of western recruitment agencies that have set up shop in South Africa, to better plunder the country's healthcare resources.

"The problem is probably the biggest public health problem in all of Africa," said lead author Edward Mills, a medical epidemiologist with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Canada.

"There are more Malawian physicians in Manchester [England] than there are in Malawi."

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