Wednesday , December 1 2021

Nkengasong and Ihekweazu leave the continent. Is this a brain drain or profit for Africa?



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Earlier that month, Chikwe Ihekweazu, who is currently head of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), was appointed to head the World Health Organization (WHO) Hub for pandemics and epidemic intelligence in the German capital Berlin, said WHO, with the Nigerian doctor on course to take up his new position on 1 November.

Some experts claim that this accidental turn of events is affecting the brain drain of the health sector from Africa.

“That is brain drain,” said Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, a former president of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors.

“They (Nkengasong and Ihekweazu) have seen better deals and they feel it is better to go to greener pastures to advance their careers,” Okhuaihesuyi told CNN. “Now is not the best time to leave,” he added.

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Nkengasong is a decorated virologist born in Cameroon, who has been chairman of the African CDC since its launch in 2017, and has played a critical role in Africa’s response to coronavirus, reinforcing the need for “rapid access to vaccines.”
Ihekweazu of Nigeria, an epidemiologist and public health expert, is renowned for strengthening his country’s capacity to tackle infectious diseases and has helped it track the third wave of Covid-19 infections.
Ihekweazu’s steps at the NCDC were praised by WHO.

Medical brain drain remains

The emigration of African doctors has increased. In 2015, more than 13,000 emigrated to the U.S. alone, representing a 27 percent increase over the previous decade, one study found.
Recent data are poor, but a November 2020 report by the African Union (AU) said that despite the risks of frontline work during the pandemic migration to high-income countries, it remains attractive to health workers from Africa due to “better working conditions, including compensation and work pressure. ”

“If not properly managed, increased demand for healthcare professionals, particularly in specialties such as anesthesiology, will leave significant gaps in Africa’s already weak healthcare systems,” the report said.

Many high-income countries are relaxing visa and immigration requirements for health workers to meet that demand, the AU said.

“Without the right policies in place, tackling Africa’s brain drain will become an even more challenging endeavor, inevitably leading to an increase in global inequality and ignoring already inadequate health systems.”

The medical brain drain already comes at a huge cost to Africa, which, according to pre-pandemic WHO figures, only has access to 3 percent of the world’s health workers despite suffering from “more than 22 percent of the worldwide burden of disease. ”

“Nothing to worry about”

Africa is fighting new strains of the coronavirus, and vaccination against the disease has been slow on the continent, where only 60 million of them more than 1 billion people have received a full course of vaccination.

Nkengasong’s imminent exit from the Africa CDC has raised concerns about the sustainability of the institute’s Covid-19 action plan.

Nkengasong, however, told CNN that there was nothing to worry about.

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“Africa CDC has a very strong leadership in place,” he said. “So, I’m not worried at all. The organization is solid.”

For his part, Ihekweazu of Nigeria told CNN that he had built the NCDC to “survive every single leader.”

“Over the last five years, we have built structures, systems and people at NCDC with the vision that these will survive every single leader,” he said. “I am very proud of the work we have done and I am sure that the 500 staff members who have made this journey will make this last beyond my time as Director-General,” Ihekweazu added.

In response to comments that his move to the WHO’s $ 100 million Pandemic Hub increases Africa’s medical brain drain, Ihekweazu stated: “I think my move to WHO strengthens Africa’s position in the world!”

According to WHO, the hub, funded by the German government, was set up “to better prepare the world and protect against global disease threats,” and will play important roles in helping “detect new events with pandemic potential. and to control disease control measures on a real-time basis. “

Ihekweazu told CNN that outside of his work in Nigeria, he “is strongly committed to seeing African countries grow from being just participants in the consumption of faxes and other technologies to participants in the basic science and research that leads to them.”

He added: “I believe my new role at the WHO Pandemic Hub provides an opportunity to contribute to this growth process for Nigeria and the African region – working closely with other colleagues.”

Other gains for Africa

Malawi’s health secretary Charles Mwansambo told CNN that the move of Nkengasong and Ihekweazu to “strategic positions” would be beneficial for Africa.

“We need to start looking positively at these movements, because they are good for the continent. The more Africans are in strategic positions, the better Africa is served,” he said, adding that Nkengasong’s new role at PEPFAR is crucial. would be for Africa’s HIV / AIDS response.

“Although Covid is here with us, there are other circumstances such as HIV that have been with us for a while. So, get an Afrikaner there [at PEPFAR] will make a huge difference to the fight against HIV / AIDS on the continent … PEPFAR has some major influence in the fight against HIV / AIDS in Africa, especially Malawi which is a major beneficiary. It is the right move for the continent, “said Mwansambo.

Described as the “greatest promise of every nation to tackle one disease in history,” PEPFAR was founded in 2003 as part of the US global AIDS response to prevent millions of HIV infections and the epidemic in to push the button. More than $ 85 billion has been invested by the US government in tackling HIV / AIDS worldwide.

Nkengasong would potentially fill the vacuum for leadership at PEPFAR, which has been without a leader for almost two years.

Steve Ahuka, an incident manager for the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Covid-19 response, told CNN that he hopes the successors of Nkengasong and Ihekweazu will be as passionate as their predecessors in the fight against infectious diseases.

“Although we’d rather have them [Nkengasong and Ihekweazu] during this moment that the African continent is dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, the fight against infectious diseases is being done as a team … I hope Nkengasong and Ihekweazu have built a strong team in Nigeria and the African CDC, and their successors will work to combat the Covid crisis, “said Ahuka.

Githinji Gitahi, a member of the board of the African CDC, told CNN that Nkengasong “will be difficult to replace.”

“Nkengasong has built a formidable reputation for the African CDC and attracted partners and resources that enabled it to achieve its mandate for disease surveillance and response coordination. He will be greatly missed,” he said.

Gitahi wants regional centers of the African CDC to be strengthened so that the power of the mother organization is expelled.

However, he acknowledged that their numbers were not enough to defeat Nkengasong and Ihekweazu. “

A spokeswoman for Uganda’s Ministry of Public Health, Ainebyoona Emmanuel, told CNN Nkengasong and Ihekweazu that the exit from the continent “is not a brain drain, but rather African leaders moving on to global leaders.”



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