AFRICA BRAIN DRAIN CONTROVERSY: MY VIEWS AS A MEDICAL DOCTOR

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Dr Benias Mugabe explains the circumstance that compelled him to migrate to the UK, a prime destination for legions of skilled African professionals

As an African doctor working and living in the UK, the controversy surrounding the Africa brain drain debate is an emotive subject on many levels for me.

Being a Zimbabwean by birth, I have personally wrestled with my conscience about the decision I made when I moved with my family to the UK, leaving behind the familiar, the comforting and those nearest and dearest to us.

However, with each passing year, I feel that the wisdom and the prudence of that decision has been vindicated.

At a personal level I agonised over the decision to make the initial contacts that would lead to my eventual departure from the land of my birth. Deciding to start the application process was the most difficult decision for me, because I knew that once I set that process in motion, I would see it through.

The reason I left home to seek opportunities in Europe, forsaking the country and the system that had trained me, to a very high level as acknowledged by my current employers, was not based on economic considerations alone.

Money and financial security are of course important considerations in any profession. But for me personally, the decision to emigrate was triggered by a combination of events and circumstance which produced the perfect storm.

Allow me at this point to refer to an incident which illustrates this.

One night, when I was the Consultant on call duty at a teaching hospital in the capital city Harare, I received a call from a distressed junior doctor requesting that I drive to the hospital immediately and attend to a female patient in obstructed labour.  

Having attended to that emergency and thankfully having managed to save both mother and baby, I needed to transfer the mother to the Intensive Care unit. Simple enough task, you would think; not quite!

It transpired that the only working elevator in the hospital had broken down!

So I had to enlist the help of four hospital porters to carry this poor unconscious patient, who was on life support, up two flights of stairs to the intensive care. That, for me, was the straw that broke the camel’s back! I resolved that night, to leave the country.

Our government had long stopped making any meaningful investment in maintaining the infrastructure that we had inherited from our colonial masters. As a country, we had simply overseen the gradual deterioration of infrastructure and equipment, in virtually every every sphere of our economy.

The story would be incomplete if I did not mention that at the same time, there was an increasing contraction of the democratic space in the country, the government was becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent.

Corruption was everywhere and a few days before the events I narrated above, the then and current Minister of Finance announced that all private fee paying schools in the country were to have their fees regulated by central government, because they were pricing many Zimbabwean children out.

What cheek, absolute nonsense on stilts!

We were sacrificing our hard earned income to ensure that at least we gave our kids the best possible chance in life in mitigation of the deplorable standards in government schools. If my wife had been sitting on the fence regarding the prospect of us moving abroad, the school fees issue decided it for her.

The die was cast.

Since moving to the UK, I have found that there are many opportunities for personal and professional growth in my profession. The mere fact that I am able to practise at the highest level and be adequately remunerated, is a huge bonus. Back home, I and  many other doctors were obliged to juggle two jobs – working in public hospitals during the day – and evenings at private practices, just to make ends meet.

In the UK, if I choose to do private practice at my convenience, it is not because I am not earning enough in my main job. As a result I have infinitely less stress than I had in Harare juggling my government work and my private practice. Moreover, my work environment helps me to be the very best I can be.

It saddens me that the situation at home continues to deteriorate.

I wish I could avail my expertise to the health sector back home, but the system makes that very challenging. Given a different set of circumstances, I would still have been in Africa looking after the citizens of my country of birth.  

Dr Benias Mugabe is a Consultant Cardiothoracic Anaesthetist/ Intensivist

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