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Open Access Research article

The metrics and correlates of physician migration from Africa

Onyebuchi A Arah

Author Affiliations

Department of Social Medicine, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, PO Box 22700, Amsterdam 1100 DE, The Netherlands

BMC Public Health 2007, 7:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-83

Published: 17 May 2007

Abstract

Background

Physician migration from poor to rich countries is considered an important contributor to the growing health workforce crisis in the developing world. This is particularly true for Africa. The perceived magnitude of such migration for each source country might, however, depend on the choice of metrics used in the analysis. This study examined the influence of choice of migration metrics on the rankings of African countries that suffered the most physician migration, and investigated the correlates of physician migration.

Methods

Ranking and correlational analyses were conducted on African physician migration data adjusted for bilateral net flows, and supplemented with developmental, economic and health system data. The setting was the 53 African birth countries of African-born physicians working in nine wealthier destination countries. Three metrics of physician migration were used: total number of physician émigrés; emigration fraction defined as the proportion of the potential physician pool working in destination countries; and physician migration density defined as the number of physician émigrés per 1000 population of the African source country.

Results

Rankings based on any of the migration metrics differed substantially from those based on the other two metrics. Although the emigration fraction and physician migration density metrics gave proportionality to the migration crisis, only the latter was consistently associated with source countries' workforce capacity, health, health spending, economic and development characteristics. As such, higher physician migration density was seen among African countries with relatively higher health workforce capacity (0.401 ≤ r ≤ 0.694, p ≤ 0.011), health status, health spending, and development.

Conclusion

The perceived magnitude of physician migration is sensitive to the choice of metrics. Complementing the emigration fraction, the physician migration density is a metric which gives a different but proportionate picture of which African countries stand to lose relatively more of its physicians with unchecked migration. The nature of health policies geared at health-worker migration can be expected to depend on the choice of migration metrics.