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Long queues form as patients wait for treatment by overworked medical staff at a rural clinic near Lusikisiki, South Africa where there is a doctor shortage. (MIKE HUTCHINGS/REUTERS)
Long queues form as patients wait for treatment by overworked medical staff at a rural clinic near Lusikisiki, South Africa where there is a doctor shortage. (MIKE HUTCHINGS/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

Foreign-trained MDs benefit Canada but cost Africa Add to ...

Canada’s immigration model aims to attract the best and brightest from around the globe. The skills and education of Filipino nurses and South African doctors benefit Canada greatly -- but the raid on local talent comes at an enormous cost to immigration source countries.

These nations, struggling to build intellectual capital themselves, subsidize the education of their best and brightest, only to see them depart for pastures new. They lose much-needed technical skills -- as well as leadership capacity.

A new study in the British Medical Journal estimates that the actual cost of doctors’ out-migration from nine sub-Saharan African countries to Canada, the U.K., the U.S. and Australia is at least $2.2-billion and could be as high as $13.5-billion. This doesn’t even take into account those who emigrate but are unable to get licensed to practise. Not only do countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Uganda face an acute shortage of doctors, nurses and midwives, but they also bear the greatest burden of global diseases such as HIV/AIDS. “The loss of these vital members of society undermines both health and social stability in African communities,” notes the study.

It is time for Canada to acknowledge this loss, and create initiatives to encourage doctors and other highly educated immigrants to return, even temporarily, to their homelands. It is grossly unfair to purposely train fewer doctors than the population requires, and then poach immigrant physicians to make up the shortfall. One fifth of Canada’s physicians are international medical graduates.

One excellent model for re-paying the debt is the University of Calgary’s program for Cuban-trained Sudanese doctors living in Alberta. Since 2006, the program has paid to upgrade the skills of 15 physicians, all of whom have returned to south Sudan. This model could be expanded to other African nations. Canada could also invest more in training health workers in Africa, replicating University of Toronto’s program in Ethiopia which has helped graduate 50 psychiatrists.

Of course, there are no laws against global migration, and personal ambition. But for developing countries to progress over the long-term, they must be permitted to reap at least some of the benefits of their national investment in education.



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