African governments have been urged to stem the number of doctors moving to work abroad that has cost sub-Saharan Africa up to $2 billion invested in training the clinicians.
Kenya's Education Secretary Dr Fred Matiangi said the medical experts are emigrating to the West due to poor pay and low levels of scientific research.
"The number of qualified doctors moving abroad to work in the West has been high over the years, where nine sub-Saharan African countries have ended up losing $2 billion as the clinicians seek work in more prosperous nations," Dr Matiangi said during the 6th Annual Medical Education Partnership (MEPI) Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya.
He said Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have suffered the worst economic loses due to the clinical brain drain while Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States have benefited the most from recruiting doctors trained in Africa.
"The migration of trained health workers from poorer countries to richer ones exacerbates the problem of already weak health systems in low-income countries battling epidemics of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) and malaria and lately, Ebola," Dr Matiang'i said.
The three-day forum has brought together local and international players in medical education and includes representatives from MEPI Schools across Africa, representatives from the funding institutions and other partners who support medical health training and research development in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Education Minister said there is a strong relationship between education and development, with studies having shown that increases in educational attainment precede improvements in health status.
"This relation between education and health arises because higher education leads to healthier life style, and because higher educated people gather, process and interpret information about healthy behaviour better," he noted.
The CS said Kenya's trends in maternal health indicators favoured the more educated women compared to those with no or low education.
"Indeed this is why the Kenyan government has embraced universal basic education to improve enrolment and transition levels," Dr Matiangi said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative, Nathan Bakyaita, said MEPI programs have contributed towards improvement of the quality of medical education and learning facilities, curriculum reforms, e-learning and faculty retention. "Although life expectancy in Africa has been recording gains hence improvements in longevity, the quality of life in Africa is greatly diminished by heavy disease burdens, high morbidity rates and high risks to life," he said.
In 2013, WHO studies showed that an estimated 24.7 million people were living with HIV, accounting for 71 per cent of the global total, whereas the number of health staff has remained low.
The recent Ebola crisis also highlighted the continent's doctor shortages with for example Uganda, with a population of 35 million people registering less than 5,000 doctors and 30,000 nurses.
Mr Bakyaita said that whereas Africa is home to 13.4 per cent of the world's population, it contributes barely 1.1 per cent of scientific researchers in the world, with just about one scientist or engineer per 10,000 inhabitants.
The resulting shortage of qualified faculty in African universities, especially in the scientific and technical fields, affects the quality of graduates entering the industry workforce, with 11 million new graduates entering the African job market annually devoid of the relevant skills to develop African solutions for African challenges.