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International News

Nurses Join Kenya's Brain Drain

April 18, 2006

Many nurses who are overworked, underpaid and underappreciated in Kenya are finding better working conditions by entering Western markets, a phenomenon that is undermining Kenya's fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB.

In Kenya, an average nurse's wage is less than $275 a month, leaving many to rely on a spouse's wage or on loans. Some work a second job or take part in a small business. Others seek better prospects working in understaffed hospitals and nursing homes in Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, where they can earn up to 10 times more than in Kenya.

According to the World Health Organization, up to 20,000 highly qualified nurses and doctors are leaving Africa each year. In Kenya, 3,390 nurses have left for richer nations over the past five years. Many will pay fees equal to 10 months of wages to private recruitment firms in order to qualify and register to work abroad.

Though Britain enacted codes to slow the poaching of nurses from poor countries, many nurses still slip through. By 2008, Britain will require 25,000 more physicians and 250,000 more nurses than it did in 1997. The United States faces a nursing shortfall of 1 million over the next decade. African governments that invest in training nurses may not reap the benefit.

In Nairobi's 1,800-bed Kenyatta National Hospital, the nurse-patient ratio is 3:80, and nurses work in darkened wards using outdated equipment. Last May, thousands of nurses staged a two-day strike over pay, leaving patients to deliver babies, child cancer patients in pain and corpses to remain untended. The threat of termination ended the walkout.

Back to other news for April 18, 2006

Adapted from:
Washington Post
04.16.06; Reuters, Katie Nguyen

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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