…renews alert on safeguards for recruitment

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its 2023 list identifying 55 countries as vulnerable for availability of health workers required to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal target for universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030.

Nigeria and 36 other African nations are on the list. Others are Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Gabon.

Also included are Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

“The impact of COVID-19 and widespread disruptions to health services has resulted in a rapid acceleration in the international recruitment of health workers. For countries losing health personnel to international migration, this could negatively impact on health systems and hinder their progress towards achieving UHC and health security”, the WHO said in a publication on its website Tuesday.

Of the 55 countries, 37 are in the WHO African region, eight in the Western Pacific region, six in the Eastern Mediterranean region, three in the South-East Asia region and one is in the Americas. Eight countries have been newly added to the WHO health workforce support and safeguards list 2023 since its original publication in 2020.

“Health workers are the backbone of every health system, and yet 55 countries with some of the world’s most fragile health systems do not have enough and many are losing their health workers to international migration,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“WHO is working with these countries to support them to strengthen their health workforce, and we call on all countries to respect the provisions in the WHO health workforce support and safeguards list.” The list should be used to inform advocacy, policy dialogue at all levels and financing efforts in support of health workforce education and employment in these countries, the organisation said.

The countries included in the WHO health workforce support and safeguards list 2023 have a UHC service coverage index below 55 and health workforce density below the global median: 49 medical doctors, nursing and midwifery personnel per 10 000 people. These countries require priority support for health workforce development and health system strengthening, along with additional safeguards that limit active international recruitment, WHO added.

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The WHO health workforce support and safeguard list 2023 does not prohibit international recruitment, but recommends that government-to-government health worker migration agreements be informed by health labour market analysis and the adoption of measures to ensure adequate supply of health workers in the source countries.

It further advises engagement with Ministries of Health in the negotiation and implementation of agreements and specification of the health system benefits of the arrangement to both source and destination countries.

WHO also recommends that these safeguards be extended to all low- and middle-income countries.

The President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Uche Rowland, had said at a symposium to discuss the brain drain in Nigeria’s medical sector last year, that at least 5,600 Nigerian medical doctors had migrated to the United Kingdom (UK) in the previous eight years, Premium Times reports.

“In 2015, 233 Nigerian doctors moved to the UK; in 2016 the number increased to 279; in 2017 the figure was 475, in 2018, the figure rose to 852, in 2019 it jumped to 1,347; in 2020, the figure was 833 and in 2021 was put at 932,” Mr Rowland said.

He further said a total of 727 medical doctors trained in Nigeria relocated to the UK in the six months, between December 2021 and May 2021; an indication that the total figure for 2022 would be higher than previous years.

Mr Rowland said Nigeria has the highest number of foreign doctors in the UK behind India and Pakistan.

He said data from the UK medical councils showed that there are 9,976 Nigerian doctors in the country.

He said while the UK and the US were the top two destinations for Nigerian medical doctors seeking job opportunities abroad, many of Nigeria’s medical professionals were also migrating to Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman.