The World Health Organization is moving towards taking some action on the flow of health professionals from poor to rich countries. It is likely that Australia is one of its targets, argues health economist Professor Gavin Mooney.
“Cuba, with a per capita national income of a quarter of that of Australia, has ‘more than 51,000 Cuban doctors and health care professionals working around the world today, primarily in developing nations’.
I would therefore doubt that the World Health Organization Executive Board had Cuba in mind when last week it expressed concerns about the flow of doctors and other health care workers from poor to rich countries and proposed a revised (and tougher) draft code of practice on health care worker migration to submit to the Sixty-third World Health Assembly, in May 2010.
The WHO Board recommended that: ‘countries should abstain from active international recruitment of health personnel unless equitable bilateral, regional, or multilateral agreement(s) exist to support such recruitment activities.’
It added that ’voluntary technical and financial mechanisms to strengthen the development of health systems in developing countries and countries with economies in transition are proposed’.
But I’ll bet one of the targets of this policy is Australia – or at least the Australian Medical Association.
Late last year the WA AMA website carried an announcement of a ‘spotter fee’ of $3000 for any doctor who succeeded in attracting an overseas doctor to Australia. There Professor Gary Geelhoed, the President of the WA AMA, was quoted as saying that ‘if anyone knew of an overseas doctor with the necessary qualifications who was interested in coming to Australia, they only had to contact the doctor and email his or her details to the AMA (WA). The association would do the rest.’
Now that would be a pretty weird idea if the overseas doctor were coming from the UK or Canada but if it were Ghana or South Africa it borders on the disgusting.
Having spent many months in South Africa in recent years and seen the enormous health problems that exist there and the lack of trained staff to deal with these problems, how low can the AMA fall in seeking to bribe Australian doctors to deplete the numbers of already over worked doctors in such low and middle income countries?
The idea of a ‘spotter’s fee’ sucks but, as an absolute minimum, can we be assured by the WA AMA President that in future no such fee will be paid if the doctor is from a developing country?
OK, in Australia we maybe cannot reverse the current trend of importing doctors and ‘do a Cuba’ by instead exporting thousands of doctors to low and middle income countries.
But, then, damn it, why not?”
• Gavin Mooney is Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney