Vaccine group Gavi seeks $9 billion to immunize world’s poorest children

Vaccine group Gavi seeks $9 billion to immunize world’s poorest children
Vaccine group Gavi seeks $9 billion to immunize world’s poorest children

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - COLOMBO: The biggest trade union of government doctors in Sri Lanka warned on Friday about a wave of economic crisis-driven brain drain among medical professionals, as 25 percent of them have already taken the necessary exams to find employment abroad.

Before the worst economic crisis pummeled Sri Lanka in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, on average 200 doctors would migrate to work in another country, according to Ministry of Health statistics.

The number has surged since early 2022, when the country defaulted on its foreign debt. Sri Lankans started experiencing power cuts and shortages of basics such as fuel, food and medicine, and the inflation rate rose to 50 percent a year.

“If we consider the situation within the last two years, more than 1,800 doctors have left the country in 2022 and 2023,” Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe, spokesperson of the Government Medical Officers Association, told Arab News.

Many more are likely to follow in their footsteps as GMOA data shows that at least 25 percent of doctors currently serving in the government health system have already passed the necessary exams to find employment abroad.

To practice medicine in the UAE or Oman, doctors need to take the Prometric Exam for GP Doctor. To work in the UK, they are required to complete the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board’s exams, while in Australia they have to follow the examination of the Australian Medical Council.

“Considering only those three … recent statistics show that nearly 5,000 Sri Lankan doctors have completed these exams and they’re waiting to take their decision of leaving the country,” Wijesinghe said.

“In government health institutions of Sri Lanka … there are around 20,000 doctors.”

He warned that an increasing number of those leaving were specialists, mainly in emergency medicine and anesthesia, followed by pediatricians, psychiatrists, neurologists and cardiac surgeons.

Some of the world’s most rigorously trained, Sri Lankan doctors are required by their country’s health system to obtain both local and international training before they practice as consultants. At the same time, and compared with the years of experience, they are among the most underpaid, earning between $170 and $720 per month.

In the past two years, those who had left for compulsory training in countries such as the UK, Australia or the US, are not willing to return.

“The high salaries they are being paid in those countries, compared to Sri Lanka, is the main reason. If you consider Middle East countries, it is nearly tenfold of the salary they are getting in Sri Lanka. In the UK and Australia, around 20 to 30-fold,” Wijesinghe said, adding that they are attracted by better working environments, better living standards, and education opportunities for their children.

“Majority of the Sri Lankan doctors migrate to Australia and the United Kingdom … They are migrating with their family members as well.”

He estimated that nearly 400 specialists have left in the past two years, which was becoming a “huge problem” for the Sri Lankan health sector.

“It has affected from the biggest hospital in Sri Lanka, the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, which is situated in Colombo, to the rural hospital system … Patients have to travel hundreds of kilometers sometimes to get their surgeries done,” he said.

“The brain drain of professionals and intellectuals from this country has affected many sectors, but it’s a well-known fact that health is the most affected sector.”

The GMOA has proposed to the Sri Lankan government ways to mitigate the brain drain of doctors, but as the solutions involve financial incentives and restructuring of the salary system, the Ministry of Health does not expect it to happen immediately.

“Increasing the salary is really difficult at this time since the country is just recovering from the economic crisis,” Dr. Asela Gunawardena, the ministry’s director-general of health services, told Arab News.

“However, we will do our best to attend to their needs to attract them to come back to their country and work for the nation.”

He was also hopeful that a sense of duty would help bring them home as well.

“Sri Lanka is the country which gave them free education from the kindergarten to university,” he said. “They have an obligation to help the country when in trouble.”

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