Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi

Despite the existence of conventions prohibiting the poaching of medical practitioners from struggling African countries, the continent continues to lose its much needed professionals, particularly much needed medical doctors, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Thursday.

“In the same way that doctors in a particular country doctors prefer to stay in an urban environment than a rural one, in that same way, doctors prefer to go to more developed countries than the less developed ones. So serious is that matter that the World Health Organisation even passed a resolution about it trying to stem it, to mitigate it,” Motsoaledi spoke to African News Agency in a wide ranging interview at the World Economic Forum in Durban.

“That resolution simply states that no country should actively recruit doctors from a developing country. They know that if you go to a developing country and you actively recruit their doctors, you are going to defeat that country. It cannot compete with you.”

Motsoaledi said despite the existence of a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) agreement barring the poaching of medical staff between the countries in the region, the health professionals have been emigrating and at times they secure jobs because of the demands or their skills.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi speaking to African News Agency, touching on various topics on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Durban.

“There is also a SADC protocol to that effect which says South Africa must not actively recruit doctors from [fellow] SADC countries. That is for a simple reason – South Africa is the strongest economy within SADC so doctors will tend to move to that strong economy if it recruits them actively. I am not recruiting anybody from SADC actively — but they come,” said Motsoaledi.

“You will never hear that I have been to Zimbabwe to recruit doctors but they come and we cannot fail to make use of them. Sometimes when they come, in trying to honoured that resolution you don’t employ them and you will find them selling oranges on the streets. Then that is unfair to a person that has been trained in a skill that is needed by the public. It’s a very difficult area.”

Motsoaledi said South Africans need to understand that the trend was not hard hitting on their health sector only, but the brain drain is a global phenomenon.

“Sometimes when South Africans talk about they believe they are an isolated country. They say ‘why is this happening to us, there is brain drain, the minister is careless, doctors are moving away’. It is happening in the whole world. I can assure you that if you go to Canada, the minister of health in Canada will tell you that they are losing doctors to the United States, because the United States has a stronger economy than Canada,” said Motsoaledi.

The minister said the three-day World Economic Forum has so far been a great platform to share ideas, innovations and best practices.

“Up to so far, it has been excellent,” said Motsoaledi.

He said African countries are united in efforts to fight a cocktail of diseases, particularly Malaria, which would spread rapidly across borders as people travel extensively across the length and the breadth of the continent.

“Apart from sharing information and strategies about infrastructure, there are certain disease a country cannot fight alone. You need your neighbours, otherwise you will never fight that disease. A very clear example is Malaria. We can’t eradicate Malaria in South Africa if we don’t cooperate with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana – and we are doing so,” said the minister.