Rich countries luring foreign nurses even as poor countries suffer hospital staff shortage: Report

WION Web Team
Geneva, Switzerland Updated: Jan 24, 2022, 04:02 PM(IST)

Data from the International Council on Nursing indicates there was a global shortage of 6 million nurses even before the pandemic occurred, with nearly 90 per cent of the shortages occurring in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Western nations are filling the gap with army personnel as well as volunteers and retirees, but they have also stepped up international recruitment in a trend that is worsening health inequity

The current outbreak of COVID-19 triggered by the Omicron variant has led wealthy countries to hire more nurses from poorer parts of the world, leading to even worse staffing shortages in overburdened hospitals in those countries, the International Council of Nurses said.

Howard Catton, CEO of the Geneva-based group that represents 27 million nurses and 130 national organizations, said that with Omicron cases surging, sickness, burnout, and staff departures have driven absentee rates to levels not seen during the two-year pandemic.

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Western nations are filling the gap with army personnel as well as volunteers and retirees, but they have also stepped up international recruitment in a trend that is worsening health inequity, he said.

"We have absolutely seen an increase in international recruitment to places like the UK, Germany, Canada and the United States," Catton told Reuters in an interview.

"I really fear this 'quick fix solution' – it's a bit similar to what we've been seeing with PPE (personal protective equipment) and vaccines where rich countries have used their economic might to buy and to hoard - if they do that with the nursing workforce it will just make the inequity even worse."

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Data from the International Council on Nursing indicates there was a global shortage of 6 million nurses even before the pandemic occurred, with nearly 90 per cent of the shortages occurring in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Catton explained that nurses from sub-Saharan Africa, such as Nigeria, and parts of the Caribbean have been recruited recently to rich countries, frequently motivated by higher wages and better conditions than in their home countries.

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According to the ICN report, nurses were also given preferred immigration status to facilitate this process.

"The bottom line is that some people would look at this and say this is rich countries offloading the costs of educating new nurses and health workers," he said.

Catton warned that even wealthy countries will struggle to deal with the "mountains of backlog of unmet care" when the pandemic ends. He called for greater investment and a 10-year plan to build the workforce.

"We need a coordinated, collaborative, concerted global effort which is underpinned by serious investment, not just warm words and platitudes and applause," he said.

(With inputs from agencies)

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