Despite the existence of conventions prohibiting the poaching of medical practitioners from struggling African countries, the continent continues to lose much needed medical doctors, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi told the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Durban
.Business Report quotes Motsoaledi: “In the same way that doctors in a particular country doctors prefer to stay in an urban environment than a rural one, in that same way, doctors prefer to go to more developed countries than the less developed ones. So serious is that matter that the World Health Organisation even passed a resolution about it trying to stem it, to mitigate it.”
“That resolution simply states that no country should actively recruit doctors from a developing country. They know that if you go to a developing country and you actively recruit their doctors, you are going to defeat that country. It cannot compete with you.” Motsoaledi said despite the existence of a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) agreement barring the poaching of medical staff between the countries in the region, the health professionals have been emigrating and at times they secure jobs because of the demands or their skills.
“There is also a SADC protocol to that effect which says South Africa must not actively recruit doctors from (fellow) SADC countries. That is for a simple reason – South Africa is the strongest economy within SADC so doctors will tend to move to that strong economy if it recruits them actively. I am not recruiting anybody from SADC actively – but they come,” said Motsoaledi.
“You will never hear that I have been to Zimbabwe to recruit doctors but they come and we cannot fail to make use of them. Sometimes when they come, in trying to honour that resolution you don’t employ them and you will find them selling oranges on the streets. Then that is unfair to a person that has been trained in a skill that is needed by the public. It’s a very difficult area.”
Motsoaledi said South Africans need to understand that the trend was not hitting their health sector only, but the brain drain is a global phenomenon. “Sometimes when South Africans talk about they believe they are an isolated country. They say ‘why is this happening to us, there is brain drain, the minister is careless, doctors are moving away’. It is happening in the whole world. I can assure you that if you go to Canada, the minister of health in Canada will tell you that they are losing doctors to the US, because the US has a stronger economy than Canada,” said Motsoaledi.
The minister said the three-day World Economic Forum has so far been a great platform to share ideas, innovations and best practices. He said African countries are united in efforts to fight a cocktail of diseases, particularly malaria, which would spread rapidly across borders as people travel extensively across the length and the breadth of the continent.
“Apart from sharing information and strategies about infrastructure, there are certain disease a country cannot fight alone. You need your neighbours, otherwise you will never fight that disease. A very clear example is malaria. We can’t eradicate malaria in South Africa if we don’t cooperate with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana – and we are doing so,” said the minister.
And in a session titled: African Health-led Economies, Motsoaledi said that non-communicable diseases posed a major threat and were a huge unwanted burden on already stretched health resources in Africa, reports MSN. He said: “Africa cannot afford this explosion of non-communicable diseases. That’s why prevention is so important. In developed countries, 80% of diseases are non-communicable and 20% are communicable. In Africa it’s the other way around. However, in South Africa, it’s a case of 53-47. We are half like Africa and half like Europe and we have to deal with both at the same time,” Motsoaledi said. “What is quite disturbing is that even to deal with communicable diseases we have to ask for funding. Are we now going to have to ask for help for diabetes and cancer too?” the minister continued. “It will be embarrassing.”
It was agreed during the session that prevention was the correct approach to take to counter Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Africa’s two most powerful economies, South Africa and Nigeria, have both seen an increase in non-communicable diseases, which has added to the burden of communicable diseases such as HIV and Aids.
Muntaqa Umar-Sadiq, the CEO of the Private Sector Health Alliance (PHN) in Nigeria, told the session that in his country, four-fifths of cases were communicable diseases and one fifth non-communicable. “It’s a hidden time bomb. There are underlying issues with data. No one is sure of prevalence rates.”
Motsoaledi went on to say that South Africa’s healthcare system was lopsided in that its private healthcare system was excellent but served only 16% of the population. “We have the strongest healthcare on the continent but not the best. The public healthcare system is better than most on the continent but it is not what it should be.”