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African health workers in the UK should be allowed to pause their citizenship journey to return home temporarily to help tackle poverty, international development charity VSO said recently.

The recommendation is one of a number of policy measures proposed in Brain Gain, a VSO report highlighting how improved circular migration, the legal and recurring movement of people, could help international aid efforts to tackle brain drain; the mass exodus of trained health workers from Africa.

Brian Rockliffe, VSO’s UK Director said:
“The UK government needs to show international leadership by linking migration to the development debate. A new way of managing migration is urgently needed if we are to curb the devastating impact of the health workforce crisis and make a step change towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals.”

The report, which will be showcased during high profile panel debates during the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party conferences, shows that many African health workers in the UK would like to return home temporarily to help address skills shortages in their country of origin, but that they currently face a number of barriers that make it difficult to do so, including a lack of flexibility in the citizen journey.

African health worker seeking citizenship must have been resident for five years and not spent more than 450 days outside the UK in that period, restricting opportunities to transfer skills to their home country, many of which suffer from a severe shortage of health workers.

At present, Africa has just three percent of global health workers but bears 24% of the global burden of disease. In the last two decades, these shortages have been exacerbated by thousands of health workers leaving to find employment in developed countries, including the UK, citing meagre salaries, crowded wards and limited professional development. Efforts by VSO and other development agencies to tackle this shortage are often undermined as many of these health workers leave permanently resulting in a skills vacuum.

Brian Rockliffe said:
“Without managing migration more effectively, donor aid for Africa’s health systems and workforces will not deliver maximum value for money.”

VSO is proposing a package of measures which includes:

1. Get migration working outwards as well as in

Make it easier for skilled migrants who have contributed to our public services and economy to return home and help their country of origin, either temporarily, permanently, or on a recurring basis, according to individual choice. We should support those who want to go back by making provisions for a ‘pause’ in the citizenship journey, encouraging diaspora volunteering, and increasing the advice available to help them return. It will save lives in Africa and reduce permanent brain drain to the UK.

2. Build up African health systems and workforces

At least half of the UK’s existing aid to global health should go towards tackling the underlying causes of migration and barriers to return by helping poor countries to strengthen their health infrastructure and build up their workforces. Returning migrants should play a vital role in helping to train and build the skills of health workers.

3. Support the professional development of migrant health workers in the UK

The UK should ensure that it supports migrant health workers to develop professionally by expanding training opportunities through schemes such as the Medical Training Initiative and ensuring migrants take jobs appropriate to their skills and qualifications. This will also enable the UK to continue to attract the brightest and best health workers to help meet our labour needs. Aiding developing countries to recognise any skills gained by migrant health workers in the UK will support them to deploy those who return most effectively.

For more information or to set up an interview please contact Louise Hill on 0208 780 7410 or email louise.hill@vso.org.uk

Editor's notes

· Brain Gain will be showcased at panel discussions at the Liberal Democrat party conference on Tuesday 21st September, the Labour conference on 29th September and the Conservative conference on 3rd October.  For more information please visit: http://www.vso.org.uk/events/

· To become a citizen, applicants must have been resident for at least five years; and present in the UK five years before the date of application. They are not allowed to have spent more than 450 days outside the UK during the five-year period, nor more than 90 days outside the UK in thelast 12 months of the five-year period.

· VSO, working with DFID, the Big Lottery Fund and the DVA, operates a dedicated Diaspora Volunteering programme. Please visit www.vso.org.uk/diaspora. To date, 409 diaspora volunteers have supported 8024 direct beneficiaries through this scheme.

· VSO’s international health advocacy strategy ‘Valuing Health Workers’ advocates for countries to move towards the threshold recommended by the WHO: 2.3 doctors, nurses and midwives per 1000 people. The strategy aims to bring increased attention to the importance of the human resource crisis in developing countries and advocates for increased resources and innovative solutions that will strengthen human resource capacity.

· VSO is an international development charity that works through volunteers.  Since 1958 over 40,000 volunteers have worked in over 120 countries.  Today there over 1600 international volunteers working in 45 countries around the world.

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