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West Lures African Nurses: Trained Nurses and Pharmacists from Africa Are in Great Demand in the US and Europe Where They Are Offered Better Pay and Prospects. but Is Africa the Loser? Milan Vesely Discusses

By Vesely, Milan | African Business, March 2004 | Go to article overview

West Lures African Nurses: Trained Nurses and Pharmacists from Africa Are in Great Demand in the US and Europe Where They Are Offered Better Pay and Prospects. but Is Africa the Loser? Milan Vesely Discusses


Vesely, Milan, African Business


Walk into any Albertson's or Walmart department store in Dallas or Fort Worth and you are sure to hear some very unlikely sounds: the lilting tones of Swahili or the clicking sounds of Xhosa. Mixed in among the Texas twangs, the sound of African dialects being spoken takes one by surprise as does the sight of colorful South African, Ugandan or Kenyan flags emblazoned on the bumpers of cars in traffic jams.

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So who are these African ladies, these laughing and smiling beauties who suddenly seem to be in every department store and in every health care facility in the area?

The health care industry is now the fast track for African nurses emigrating to the US or the United Kingdom, as well as to many western European countries. Walk into any Texas hospital, and particularly any nursing home, and their smiling faces and cheerful dispositions will greet you.

In the Bishop Davies Medicare-approved facility near the Dallas/Fort Worth airport there are usually at least 20 nurses, all employed on temporary work permit basis provided by a health care employment agency.

Earning anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 per year (depending on qualifications), these nurses are gaining the opportunity of a life time. Working in an American health care facility gives them invaluable experience with up-to-date nursing techniques and technology, while at the same time offering wages that enable them to put away a tidy financial nest egg.

At the same time they are also earning their sponsoring agencies commissions of between nine and 22%. This has proved an extremely lucrative business for employment agencies struggling to find vacancies for three million American unemployed.

"I have been here two years," Bishop Davies' Sheila Wairimu of Kiambu, Kenya said. "I miss home but am saving money and gaining experience at the same time." Pointing out that the Bishop Davies facility is an integrated rehabilitation facility for geriatric patients she asked: "Where else can I gain experience on the latest electrocardiogram machine, while at the same time being trained in the most modern physiotherapy techniques?" Nodding their heads in agreement, her partner nurses from Sierra Leone, Uganda and South Africa all echo her words.

BACKLASH AGAINST RECRUITMENT

Recent headlines in South African and English presses have decried the poaching of African nurses by overseas agencies, particularly those from the English speaking countries. Health Care Unions have also got in on the issue, pressuring their governments to ban recruitment from developing countries. Despite this, the nurse recruitment business goes on since many private agencies are exempt from their government's regulations.

"We are not in a position to direct the independent sector," Sarah Mullally, chief nursing officer in the UK said. Echoing her words Evelynn Mutio, general secretary of Kenya's National Nurses Association claimed: "The UK and US are poaching our nurses through employment agents and we can do nothing about it."

Statistics from the UK Nursing and Midwifery Council show that 13,721 nurses who trained outside the European Union were approved to work in Britain in 2001, up from 3,621 four years before.

Of those approved, 7,235 came from the Philippines, 2,114 from South Africa and 473 from Zimbabwe. While a figure of just under 14,000 nurses may not sound much considering the shortage being experienced in the NHS, the fact that 100,000 overseas nurses and midwives asked for application packs illustrates the depth of the exodus underway from many African countries already hard pressed to cope with a growing demand for health care services in their own hospitals.

Estimates for foreign nurses coming to the US are difficult to come by but many professionals believe that the figure is somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000; America often being the first choice of many from Africa.

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West Lures African Nurses: Trained Nurses and Pharmacists from Africa Are in Great Demand in the US and Europe Where They Are Offered Better Pay and Prospects. but Is Africa the Loser? Milan Vesely Discusses
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