Nkengasong and Ihekweazu leave the mainland. Is this a brain drain or a gain for Africa?

Earlier that same month, Chikwe Ihekweazu, who currently heads the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), was appointed to head the World Health Organization (WHO) center for intelligence on pandemics and epidemics in the German capital Berlin, said the WHO, with the Nigerian doctor. on track to assume his new role on November 1.

Some experts claim that this coincidence of events highlights the brain drain of the health sector from Africa.

“It’s a brain drain,” said Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, former president of the Nigerian Association of Medical Residents.

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

Nkengasong is a decorated virologist of Cameroonian descent, who has chaired the Africa CDC since its launch in 2017, and has played a critical role in the coronavirus response in Africa, amplifying the need for “rapid access to vaccines.”
Nigerian Ihekweazu, epidemiologist and public health expert, is renowned for building his country’s capacity to fight infectious diseases and helping it contain the third wave of Covid-19 infections through follow-up efforts and test.
Ihekweazu’s progress at NCDC had been congratulated by the WHO.

The medical brain drain persists

The emigration of African doctors has continued to increase. In 2015, more than 13,000 emigrated to the United States alone, representing a 27% increase over the previous decade, according to a study.
Recent data is scarce, but a November 2020 report from the African Union (AU) said that despite the risks of frontline work during the pandemic, migration to high-income countries remains attractive for health workers. Africa because of “better working conditions, including pay and workload.”

“If not well managed, the increased demand for health workers, especially in specialties like anesthesiology, will leave significant gaps in Africa’s already weak health systems,” the report says.

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

“Without the right policies in place, tackling the brain drain from Africa will become an even more difficult undertaking, inevitably leading to increasing global inequalities and the neglect of already inadequate health systems.”

The medical brain drain already has a high cost for Africa, which, according to WHO pre-pandemic figures, has access to only 3% of health workers in the world despite “more than 22% of the global burden of disease “.

“Nothing to worry about”

Africa is battling new strains of the coronavirus, and vaccination against the disease has been slow on the continent, where only 60 million of its more than one billion people have received a full vaccine.

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

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

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

Nigerian Ihekweazu, for his part, told CNN that he built the NCDC to “outlive any leader.”

“Over the past five years, we have built structures, systems and people at NCDC with the vision that these will outlast any leader,” he said. “I am very proud of the work we have accomplished and I have no doubts that the 500 staff members who led this trip will maintain it beyond my tenure as Managing Director,” added Ihekweazu.

Reacting to comments that his stint at the WHO’s $ 100 million pandemic center is exacerbating the medical brain drain in Africa, Ihekweazu said: “I think my time at WHO strengthens Africa’s position in Africa. the world !

According to the WHO, the hub, which is funded by the German government, was created “to better prepare and protect the world against global disease threats”, and will play a key role in helping “to detect new events with potential pandemic and to monitor the disease. real-time control measurements.

Ihekweazu told CNN that beyond his work in Nigeria, he is “strongly committed to seeing African countries move from just participating in the consumption of vaccines and other technologies to participating in basic science and the research that leads to it “.

He added: “I believe my new role at the WHO Pandemic Center offers 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 Nkengasong and Ihekweazu’s move to “strategic positions” would benefit Africa.

“We have to start looking at these movements in a positive way because they are good for the continent. The more Africans there are in strategic positions, the better Africa will be served,” he said, adding that the new Nkengasong’s role in PEPFAR would be crucial in the fight against HIV in Africa. / Response to AIDS.

“Although Covid is here with us, there are other conditions like HIV that have been with us for quite some time. So bring an African over there. [at PEPFAR] will make all the difference in the fight against HIV / AIDS on the continent … PEPFAR has a great influence in the fight against HIV / AIDS in Africa, in particular Malawi which is a great beneficiary. It is the right decision for the continent, ”Mwansambo said.

Described as “any nation’s greatest commitment to tackle a single disease in history,” PEPFAR was established in 2003 as part of the US AIDS response to prevent millions of HIV infections and quash HIV. epidemic in the bud. Over $ 85 billion has been invested by the US government in the fight against HIV / AIDS around the world.

Nkengasong would potentially fill the leadership void at PEPFAR, which has been leaderless for nearly two years.

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

“Although we prefer to have them [Nkengasong and Ihekweazu] As the African continent faces the Covid-19 crisis, the battle against infectious diseases is being done as a team … I hope Nkengasong and Ihekweazu have built a strong team in Nigeria and the Africa CDC, and that their successors will continue to work on it to fight the Covid crisis, ”said Ahuka.

Africa CDC board member Githinji Gitahi told CNN that Nkengasong “will be difficult to replace.”

“Nkengasong has built a tremendous reputation for the Africa CDC and has attracted partners and resources that have enabled him to fulfill his mandate of coordinating disease surveillance and response. He will be sorely missed, ”he said.

Gitahi wants the Africa CDC regional centers to be strengthened so that the power of the parent organization is devolved.

However, he said it was important for Nkengasong and Ihekweazu to move into institutions “which have a huge impact on the health of Africans and their health security.”

Ugandan health ministry spokesperson Ainebyoona Emmanuel told CNN that the exit of Nkengasong and Ihekweazu from the continent “is not a brain drain, but rather a shift from African leaders to world leaders.”


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