Plan to Stem Health Brain Drain

( [email protected] ) Nov 22, 2004 09:09 PM EST

A new National Human Resources Implementation Plan for the public health sector is in the pipeline, as government aims to stem the migration of health professionals to developed countries.

The Department of Health hosted a workshop in Johannesburg last week, where delegates from both the public and private health institutions discussed the current "brain drain" and how to redress scarcity and misdistribution of human resources, particularly in the rural areas.

Delegates from the European Union (EU), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Department of Labour, health unions, professional associations and student bodies as well as academics from nursing colleges, the private health sector and the National NGO Forum attended the sessions.

Speaking at the end of the two-day workshop on Friday, Health Human Resource Deputy Director General Percy Mahlathi said there were a number of issues such as salary levels and job satisfaction contributing to this problem.

"A strong partnership between all health sector stakeholders needs to be developed to adequately address this issue."

"Western countries poach our health workers because they have such a high level of excellence, and we are proud of that. However, that level of excellence must be used for our own needs and not disadvantage our own country," he said.

Dr Mahlathi said government hoped to have developed a "broad" implementation plan by the end of March next year.

"There will be ongoing discussions on this issue and we want something concrete to present to the Health Minister [Manto Tshabalala-Msimang] and Cabinet by early next year," he said.

He also said that Dr Tshabalala-Msimang had prioritised this issue, as it was somewhat of an "Achilles heel" to the department.

"We already have a technical team that has started work on this issue. We will be studying in depth the reasons for the migration of our health workers are and how we will deal with those particular areas," said Dr Mahlathi.

Dr Mahlathi highlighted that shoddy data capturing was also an issue that needed to be addressed as he could not specify how many health professionals were in fact migrating to other countries, or how many foreign medics were entering South Africa.

"We need to beef up our data capturing systems as we have a very thin knowledge base on human resources," he said.

Government has meanwhile set aside R500 million to recruit and retain health professionals in the public sector, particularly in rural areas, where the shortage of skilled personnel frequently threatens quality care.

To encourage health professionals to work in underserved areas, government has availed rural allowances ranging from eight to 22 percent of annual salary as an incentive to full-time medical doctors, dentists and medical specialists, who are employed in facilities that are situated in rural areas.

A scarce skills allowance has also been introduced which is applicable to full-time health professionals in specified categories regardless of the geographic area in which they work.

This allowance ranges from 10 to 15 percent of annual salary, depending on occupational category.

"These allowances are working well but have not stemmed migration. As I have mentioned there are other issues contributing to migration and we will do everything in our power to correct this situation," said Dr Mahlathi.

BuaNews (Pretoria)