March 9, 2006

Panelists Say Brain Drain Is Global Problem

Print More

Deladum Kusi-Appouh grad defined the brain drain as the “migration of relatively highly educated individuals from underdeveloped to developed countries” at yesterday’s panel discussion, which addressed this rapidly growing epidemic. The other panelist members were Prof. Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, politics, Ithaca College, and Prof. Rebecca Stoltzfus, nutritional science.

Because the panel discussion was part of the second annual Afrika Week, the event focused somewhat on Africa, but the panelists made it clear that the brain drain remains a global problem, and is prevalent outside of underdeveloped countries.

“It’s a global problem. It’s not particularly an African problem,” Soyinka-Airewele said. “We must not interpret brain drain as only having an effect when people move from third-world countries to developed nations.”

Kusi-Appouh believes that the three main causes of the brain drain are the high salaries available for international workers, political instability in many underdeveloped countries and the precedent of educated people who migrate out of their native countries without intending to return.

She later said that one main issue, which prevents people from returning to their native countries, is the economic benefit of staying in foreign countries. Another issue is the level of animosity, which are sometimes faced by people who return to underdeveloped countries as successful professionals.

“There’s a certain kind of guilt that comes with it,” she said.

Soyinka-Airewele added, “Very often, when you return, there’s a disjuncture. You must decide on what your goals are and then decide what way you can help best.”

One professional area where the brain drain is especially apparent is in the health field. In some areas of sub-Saharan Africa, there are 2.2 doctors for every 100,000 people. This is in sharp contrast to the 293 doctors the United States has for the same population, Stoltzfus said. In addition to the lack of doctors, African countries have less healthy populations, partly due to the malaria and HIV epidemics.

The four countries which receive the greatest number of foreign physicians are the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Approximately 23 to 28 percent of physicians in each of these countries are trained internationally.

“We’re relying on importing foreign nurses and doctors,” Stoltzfus said.

At the same time, there are “massive manpower vacancies in many African countries,” Soyinka-Airewele added.

“I was really impressed that [the discussion] lasted so long and there was so much to talk about,” said Jasmine B. Barrow ’08, one of the attendees. “They touched on every aspect of [the brain drain].”

The panelists also spoke about the positive aspects of the migration.

“The brain drain is considered this hugely negative thing … but there are people who say there are many positive instances. They call this the brain gain,” Kusi-Appouh said. “There’s a difference between people who are desperate and people who are looking for opportunities.”

Soyinka-Airewele made it clear that any help provided to countries negatively affected by the brain drain must be mutually beneficial.

“When we know that we have a lot to gain from Africans at home, it changes the power [of the situation],” she said.

Stoltzfus also said that African students should not be pressured to return to their native countries.

“It’s not productive to put a guilt trip on yourself or on African students … who don’t immediately go home. Globalization is a force that cannot be stopped,” she said. “We must make globalization work for both the poor and the rich.”

After the discussion ended, Kwai Y. Lam ’08 said, “I think the discussion pretty much covered the different fields of the brain drain, [but] I wish the panelists could have tied health, policy and social aspects together a bit more.”

Abena Sackey ’07, one of the event’s organizers, said, “I think the discussion went really well. We rarely have these types of conversations on campus, and it was a good opportunity for young scholars to critically think about how they can make a difference.”

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Coalition of Pan-African Scholars, Cornell Health International, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Black Bio-Medical and Technical Association.

Archived article by Sara Gorecki
Sun Staff Writer