Sunday, March 2, 2008

How Big a Problem is the Brain Drain?

The more you learn, the harder it is to write. Chatted for half an hour on the phone last week with Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development. He urged me to question my assumption that the brain drain of nurses, doctors and others plays a BIG role in the delivery of health care in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Clemen's research on migration, even if you could somehow stop the movement of skilled workers from poorer to richer countries, that wouldn't necessarily improve health care in the poorest areas. First, Clemens told me, you have to ask where highly skilled registered nurses are needed. Then, you need to see if other less skilled folks could be trained to fill in the gaps. And finally, he said you should cast a broad net to see what are the biggest factors that keep that from happening.

International migration may be a convenient scapegoat for problems that are closer to home. Although Clemens couldn't give me specifics on Malawi, I will definitely be keeping my eyes--and my mind--open when I travel there in June.

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