Financial pull continues to lure overworked Malawian health workers to foreign countries

Felix Mponda

Felix Mponda

BLANTYRE - For Malawian nurse Hilda Maganga, 54, the financial pull of a spell on a ward in the UK is close to overwhelming her desire to tend to patients in her Aids-stricken and impoverished homeland.

"I would like to do a two-year stint in the UK, make some money and come back to retire for good," said Maganga as she contemplates joining the brain drain of Malawian health professionals.

Official figures show that more than 120 registered nurses have migrated to Britain and the US every year in the last decade.

With 14percent of the country's population of 12million infected with HIV, the demands on the health service are as great as at any stage in the country's history.

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum of 100 nurses and 20 doctors per 100000 people, Malawi has only 56,4 nurses and two doctors for the same number.

Wealthier South Africa, for example, has 393 nurses and 74,3 doctors for every 100000 people.

Dorothy Ng'oma, executive director of the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi, said: "The situation is very bad, it's a crisis.

"The shortage of nurses in particular is very acute, with one nurse handling more than 100 very sick patients in most hospital wards. We have only 3000 nurses on register for a population of 12 million ..."

In a bid to counter the shortages, Malawi launched an emergency plan three years ago which saw health workers receive an average 52percent pay rise.

Health Minister Marjorie Ngaunje said: "Yes, there are serious problems, and we need to train 1000 nurses yearly if we want to arrest the situation." - Sapa-AFP