Could the Step-Up deepen healthcare worker brain drain in the Pacific?
By Matthew Bray In the era of the Pacific Step-Up, Australian aid for health has taken a publicity backseat to the flagship policies of increased labour mobility and regional educational opportunities. The Health for Development Strategy 2015-2020, describes Australia’s approach to improving health through aid, wherein health system strengthening is described as its highest priority, of which human resources is an essential building block. However, an inconsistency threatens to hamper efforts towards health system strengthening in Pacific island nations – the role Australia plays in hiring health care professionals from the very nations we are seeking to assist.
Two key pillars of the Step-Up – increased regional education opportunities and labour mobility – may well prove to be avenues that contribute to the problem of ‘brain drain’ and deepen the human resource deficits that weaken healthcare systems in aid recipient nations. A critique of the issues that arise with recruitment of health workers from our Pacific neighbours is timely, and required, to ensure that our efforts to address Australian workforce shortages do not thwart capacity-building endeavours in the Pacific’s struggling healthcare systems.
Research shows that migration by Pacific island health professionals to Australia is high, and that it worsens the shortage of health workers in source countries. Joel Negin’s paper on Australia and New Zealand’s contribution to Pacific Island health worker brain drain reported that during the 2006 Census, 455 Pacific born doctors and 1158 Pacific born nurses and midwives were working in Australia. By the 2016 Census these numbers had ballooned to 607 doctors and 2954 nurses. In some cases the number of migrant healthcare workers in Australia from certain nations outnumber the local workforce in their home countries. Stemming from this migration, developing nations not only lose those best equipped to deliver healthcare to their vulnerable populations, they …read more