Brain drain: Africa is left without skilled workers.

There is a flow of educated people from the southern to the northern hemisphere. From poor countries with a precarious life standard to rich countries which, to fill the lack of needed skills, massively and at low-cost recruit graduates in Africa.

A senior Zimbabwean health official revealed that since 2021 more than 4,000 workers – including doctors, nurses and other health workers – have left the country to go to work abroad. This figure includes 1,700 registered nurses who quit last year and more than nine hundred who did so this year. The sector is in crisis as evidenced by the fact that in June 2022 the sector was rocked by a major strike to have wages paid in US dollars instead of Zimbabwean dollars as the local currency continues to lose value due to of the insurrection. At the moment, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Harare government is struggling to support its health service, especially as the population continues to increase. Zimbabwe is one of those low-income countries where the number of health workers is less than 23 per ten thousand inhabitants, a threshold considered critical by the WHO, below which it is not possible to provide essential services. Many of the Zimbabwean professionals who have gone abroad have found work in the United Kingdom, another country which – although not having development problems – suffers from a shortage of qualified personnel.

The exodus of nurses is also closely affecting Kenya, as told by journalist Betty Guchu in an article in The Elephant. The salaries offered by clinics and care homes in the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland and the UK are significantly more attractive than what they could receive in their own country. Consequently, leaving becomes the most sensible choice, even if it means leaving local healthcare unguarded. Of the 90,000 Kenyans working in the United States, more than a quarter are nurses.

Looking for El Dorado

Nigerian journalist Aanu Adeoye writes in the Financial Times that the United Kingdom is, together with Canada, an “El Dorado for Nigerian youth”, another country experiencing a major brain drain. This phenomenon particularly affects educated middle-class youth, for whom emigration in search of work (generally to English-speaking countries) is a major concern. In 2019, a study by the US Pew Center found that 45 per cent of Nigerian adults planned to emigrate within five years. It was the highest percentage in the world. There may be many reasons for this choice, but the main ones are insecurity and widespread crime in Nigeria, and economic stagnation, with high levels of insecurity and unemployment. According to data from the British Home Office, in 2021 almost 16,000 visits were made to Nigerian citizens for “qualified workers”, including doctors, nurses, computer engineers and business consultants. Germany is also a popular destination. “If you throw a stone in Berlin, you risk ringing a Nigerian software developer,” writes Adeoye, echoing a joke circulating among Berlin computer scientists.

The Africa youth survey released this summer by South Africa’s Ichikowitz Family Foundation confirms the trend. The research involved 4,500 young people aged between 18 and 24, from fifteen different African countries. Rwandans, Ghanaians and Ugandans were said to be most optimistic about the future of their country; the most pessimistic were the Nigerians (according to 95 per cent of those interviewed, their country is going in the wrong direction), followed by Zambians and Kenyans. The reasons for emigrating are mainly linked to economic and educational opportunities. The same survey conducted before the pandemic had given very different results: most of those interviewed wanted to stay in their country and build a life there. Things have changed with covid-19 and the many socio-economic repercussions it has had. Today many would like to move to Europe, the United States or South Africa, a country considered “the holy grail” for the kids of the continent. But not by its inhabitants, who in turn would like to leave it to look for work elsewhere.

Curbing the departure of young people from the continent is essential for everyone because it is estimated that in 2030 42 per cent of the world’s young people will be born in Africa. It is crucial to the continent’s development that these girls and boys signal their homes. Senegal is trying, writes Le Monde, echoing the words of President Macky Sall: “We need engineers, technicians and skilled workers” because “ours is a country under construction and we need our best brains”. The Dakar government has set up preparatory classes for large schools (higher education institutions modelled on the French ones) specializing in scientific subjects, to avoid even very young students the disorienting experience of finishing high school abroad ((at the same time he cut scholarships to study in other countries). Le Monde recalls the case of Diary Sow, the Senegalese student who attended an elite Parisian high school thanks to a government scholarship for very gifted students, who at the beginning of 2022 had gone untraceable to escape excessive pressure suffered by her.

But there are also those who are starting to go back. Journalist Aanu Adeoye recounts how he returned to Nigeria, to Lagos, giving up the simplicity of life in a European metropolis to find himself in the midst of infernal traffic and entirely without friends, because they are all abroad. He acknowledges, however, that Nigeria and Lagos, in particular, may have their charms and may offer opportunities. Especially for those who, like him, are a journalist and are always looking for new stories to tell.

Healthcare: where nurses migrate

There is a flow of nurses from the southern to the northern hemisphere. From poor countries with a precarious health system to rich countries which, to fill the lack of these skills, massively and at low cost recruit nurses trained in Africa and Asia.

This was denounced by the International Council of Nurses (CII), underlining that this hoarding of personnel contributes to further impoverishing the healthcare offer of many developing countries.

The director general of the Cii, Howard Catton, explains that 80% of international migration of nurses takes the route of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Europe.

Catton said there would be talks between the UK and Ghana to reach an agreement whereby London would pay Accra €1,140 for every nurse it recruits. “A figure – comments Catton – that does not recognize the value of the training costs of a nurse or nurses”.

This recruitment is primarily focused on skilled and experienced nurses. “And this creates a lack of competence in the countries from which nurses leave”, underlines Pamela Cipriano, president of the Cii.

In November 2022, the World Health Organization predicted that by 2030, Africa will have a shortage of around 5.3 million health workers. Among the countries of greatest emigration are Zimbabwe and Malawi, which lost about 4,000 professionals last year alone.

The International Council of Nurses, founded in 1899, is based in Geneva and is made up of 130 national associations representing 28 million health professionals.