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Fri 1 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

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Slowing the West-East brain drain

A new body aimed at dealing with the effects of healthcare worker migration has begun operations.

A new body aimed at dealing with the effects of healthcare worker migration has begun operations. The Health Worker Migration Policy Initiative is made up of two groups that will work closely together over the coming months to develop recommendations.

The Migration Technical Working Group brings together the International Organisation for Migration, the International Labour Organisation, professional associations, experts and academics.

The Health Worker Global Policy Advisory Council is made up of senior figures from developed and developing countries. It will work to develop a global code of practice for healthcare worker migration and lobby governments for acceptance of its recommendations.

The initiative is led by Mary Robinson, former Irish president, who is president of ‘Realising Rights: the Ethical Globalisation Initiative', and Dr Francis Omaswa, executive director of the Global Health Workforce Alliance (GHWA).

"We cannot stand alone as individual countries continue to address their own increased needs for health workers without looking beyond their shores to the situation these migrating workers have left behind in their homelands," said Robinson. "We cannot continue to shake our heads and bemoan the devastating brain drain from some of the neediest countries on the planet without forcing ourselves to search for - and actively promote - practical solutions that protect both the right of individuals to seek employment through migration and the right to health for all people," she added.

A growing body of data shows that the number of foreign-trained doctors has tripled in several OECD countries over the past three decades. For smaller developing countries, the migration of just a few dozen doctors can mean losing more than 30% of their workforce, even as basic health needs remain unmet.

Similarly, 60 to 80 nurses from Swaziland migrate to the United Kingdom each year, while fewer than 90 graduate from Swazi schools. Save the Children UK estimates that the United Kingdom saved £65 (US $129 million) in training costs between 1998 and 2005 by recruiting Ghanaian health workers.

One of the Initiative's first priorities will be to support the World Health Organisation in drafting a framework for an International Code of Practice on Health Worker Migration, as called for by a resolution of the World Health Assembly in 2004. This framework will promote ethical recruitment, the protection of migrant health workers' rights and remedies for addressing the economic and social impact of health worker migration in developing countries. The Code of Practice will be the first of its kind on a global scale for migration.

The Initiative will also promote good practices and strategies to enable countries to increase supply and retain their health workers more effectively. The new tools and policy recommendations developed by the Initiative will support better management of migration through North-South collaboration.

Dr Omaswa emphasised the importance of addressing both the ‘push' and ‘pull' factors simultaneously. "Health workers are a valued and scarce resource. Demand is increasing worldwide, but not enough are being trained - in the developed or the developing world. Developing countries must prioritise health and health workers, with better working conditions and incentives so its workforce can stay and be more efficient, while developed countries must train more of their youth and try to be self-sufficient."

The Health Worker Migration Policy Initiative is due to make initial policy recommendations by the end of 2008. Its operations are co-funded and co-ordinated by Realising Rights, the Global Health Workforce Alliance, and the MacArthur Foundation.

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