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Medical brain drain worsens in Sri Lanka as 25% of doctors ready to emigrate

Medical brain drain worsens in Sri Lanka as 25% of doctors ready to emigrate

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s largest government doctors’ union on Friday warned of a wave of brain drain caused by the economic crisis among medical professionals, as 25 percent of them have already passed the necessary exams to find a job abroad.

Before the worst economic crisis hit Sri Lanka following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, an average of 200 doctors would migrate to work in another country, according to Ministry of Health statistics.

This number has increased since early 2022, when the country defaulted on its external debt. Sri Lankans began to experience power cuts and shortages of basic necessities such as fuel, food and medicine, and the inflation rate reached 50 percent per year.

“Looking at the situation over the past two years, more than 1,800 doctors have left the country in 2022 and 2023,” Dr Chamil Wijesinghe, spokesperson for the Government Doctors Association, told Reuters. Arab News.

Many more will likely follow in their footsteps since GMOA data shows that at least 25 percent of doctors currently working in the public health system have already passed the exams needed to find employment abroad.

To practice medicine in the UAE or Oman, doctors must pass the Prometric for GP Doctor exam. To work in the UK, they must take the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board exams, while in Australia they must take the Australian Medical Council exam.

“Considering just these three exams… recent statistics show that almost 5,000 Sri Lankan doctors have passed these exams and are waiting to make the decision to leave the country,” Wijesinghe said.

“In Sri Lanka’s public health facilities… there are around 20,000 doctors. »

He warned that a growing number of those leaving were specialists, primarily in emergency medicine and anesthesia, followed by pediatricians, psychiatrists, neurologists and cardiac surgeons.

Some of the most rigorously trained Sri Lankan doctors in the world are required by their country’s healthcare system to obtain local and international training before practicing as consultants. At the same time, and relative to years of experience, they are among the most underpaid, earning between $170 and $720 per month.

Over the past two years, those who have left for compulsory training in countries like the UK, Australia or the US are not willing to return.

“The high salaries they receive in these countries, compared to those in Sri Lanka, are the main reason for this. If we consider Middle Eastern countries, this salary is almost ten times what they receive in Sri Lanka. In the UK and Australia, about 20 to 30 times more,” Wijesinghe said, adding that they are attracted by better working environments, better living standards and educational opportunities for their children.

“The majority of Sri Lankan doctors migrate to Australia and the United Kingdom… They also migrate with their family members. »

He estimates that almost 400 specialists have left over the past two years, which is becoming a “huge problem” for the Sri Lankan health sector.

“This has affected the largest hospital in Sri Lanka, the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, located in Colombo, all the way to the rural hospital system… Patients sometimes have to travel hundreds of kilometers for surgery,” he said. he declares.

“The brain drain of professionals and intellectuals in this country has affected many sectors, but it is common knowledge that health is the most affected sector.”

The GMOA has proposed ways to the Sri Lankan government to mitigate the doctor brain drain, but as the solutions involve financial incentives and restructuring of the salary system, the Ministry of Health does not expect this occur immediately.

“Raising salaries is really difficult at the moment since the country is just recovering from the economic crisis,” Dr. Asela Gunawardena, director general of health services at the ministry, told Arab News.

“However, we will do our best to meet their needs to attract them to return to their countries and work for the nation.”

He also hoped that a sense of duty would help them return home as well.

“Sri Lanka is the country that provided them with free education from kindergarten to university,” he said. “They have an obligation to help the country in difficulty.”