No. 17: Compartment Syndrome Reveals African Brain Drain

Why did there seem to be so many African health care professionals at DeKalb Medical Hospital? Over the course of my weeklong stay at the hospital, recovering from surgery, I could not help but ponder this. In the course of a week, nurses from Nigeria and Tanzania tended to me. My primary doctor was Nigerian. During my exercise walks down the hall, I saw even more African doctors, nurses, and technicians. I was floored.

While in Uganda a few weeks ago, I heard stories about the challenges the country faces in retaining the medical doctors it trains. Imagine an entire district that has thousands of citizens, needs ten doctors to care for them, but has only been able to fill two positions. In Ghana, there were 0.85 physicians per 10,000 people in 2009. The country has around 23 million people, yet there were 2,000 doctors in 2009. According to the World Health Organization, African countries only have 3 percent of the global health workforce despite having 11 percent of the world’s population and 24 percent of the global disease burden: Global Health Workforce.

The consensus among African doctors who leave the continent is that they left for higher salaries and better working conditions. The following video covers that tension well: Africa’s Deadly Brain Drain. Understanding a small piece of the challenge African countries are facing in growing their medical professional workforces increases my appreciation for some good friends of mine, and the work to which they have committed themselves in driving health improvements in African countries.

Claud Crosby is a Tuberculosis Research Specialist at Emory University after living on the African continent for half a decade. He has spent a significant amount of time in Swaziland and South Africa working in medical facilities. Seeing the public health challenges in those countries drove him to re-enroll in college here in the US in efforts to pursue a medical degree. Claud’s ultimate aim is to practice medicine on the African continent. His vision is for public health systems that empower people to drive improved health conditions in their respective communities. He also aims to build profit-generating entities alongside these systems in order to reach individuals despite their ability to pay.

Rivka Ihejirika is completing post-baccalaureate studies at Harvard University before enrolling in medical school. She set her mind to be a surgeon and contribute to the improvement of Nigeria’s healthcare system after a summer trip to the country. While there, she volunteered with a hospital and came back heavily impacted. Hopefully her leadership in surgery combats the challenges Patrick Awuah describes in the beginning of this talk: Training Our Next Leaders.

Valentine Dike is an Army Officer in the US Army. His vision is to improve the sustainability of Nigeria’s health care infrastructure. He wants to see hospitals in which the power doesn’t go out in the middle of surgeries. Alongside conducting his duties in the Army, he is collaborating with a doctor in studying Nigeria’s health environment in depth. In studying Nigeria’s health care system, he has four areas in which he wants to grow his understanding:

1. What are the Policies that are in place?
2. What is the reality for the medical professionals on the ground?
3. What are the conditions of the communities at hand
4. What are the conditions of the primary care facilities?

He aims to enroll in a Master of Public Policy/Master of Business Administration dual degree program in efforts to drive this vision from a policy and business perspective.

While I am encouraged to see my friends going back to the African continent, its countries need their doctors, nurses, technicians, public health workers returning home. The challenges of compensation and working conditions are staggering in some countries, but more hands on the plow can push through them.

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