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Forum 2009 Blog

Are brain drains essentially unfair trade?

19 Nov 2009

Posted by: Patrick Adams

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In Thursday’s plenary session, Dr David Samuels of the University of the Western Cape argued that poor countries’ loss of human resources to richer ones should be compensated by the latter. “More than 60 percent of health systems spending is on human resources, and in Africa the ratios are just abominable,” Samuels said. “We’re losing human resources in the brain drain, and it amounts to unfair trade. People shouldn’t be restricted from moving, but the countries that receive the professionals should reimburse the sending countries.”
Samuels added that while capacity building is imperative to stem this loss, “you can’t do that in the long run without rebuilding the training institutions.” Over the past couple of decades, African training institutions have suffered from ill-informed policies and economic crises. “For instance, the World Bank, 15 or so years ago, said that countries should not invest in tertiary education, only in primary. And actually we need investment in both. Right now, we don’t have the basis to actually build capacity. So all this talk of money going into capacity building, we’re not seeing it in African universities.”
One reason for that, he said, is that much of the money spent on capacity building is absorbed by the actors conducting the transaction. “PEPFAR claims to be spending $3 billion on capacity building, but how much of that is going to U.S. contractors, who come to Africa to run short training courses and then leave? That money should go directly to the African institutions. We can have partnerships with U.S. contractors, but as it is, the great majority of that money returns to the U.S.”

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