There is only one cancer treatment center in the whole of Zambia, which has a population of about 20 million. So for many in that country, being diagnosed with cancer also means incurring travel expenses to and from the oncology hospital in the capital, Lusaka. This is where Dorothy Lumpy worked as an oncologist until the summer of 2021, when she left her job to take up a position in New Zealand.
“I’m not sure to use my skill set anyway, and that was one of my biggest pushes to get moving,” she says via video call.
“It wasn’t really just walking away, but doing what I love, which is radiation oncology,” he adds.
Worrying about brain drain has a ‘neo-colonial flavour’
His decision meant losing a much-needed health worker. Johannes Haushofer, an economist and poverty researcher, says skilled workers should not be forced to stay.
“Wanting someone to stay where they are, even if they wanted to emigrate, is completely paternalistic,” he says. “This preoccupation with brain drain has a neo-colonial flavour. The desire to keep people stuck in where they are whether they want to leave or not.”
Dorothy’s work in Zambia went beyond oncology, and she had to help patients deal with social and economic issues.
Haushofer is the founder of Malengo, a charity that facilitates international educational migration from Uganda to Germany. The organization funds the first year of study in German universities for high-achieving and low-income Ugandan students, who are committed to repaying the money through an income-sharing program after graduation. Although the initiative aims to enhance students’ education, it does not expect or encourage them to return to their country of origin.
Migration creates opportunities that go beyond remittances
“Migration can be beneficial not only for the people who migrate, but also for the people who stay there,” Haushofer says.
Remittances are often the direct benefit of migrants’ families and countries. Ugandan students sponsored by Malengo send an average of $165 per month to their families, and this amount can increase with their income.
According to economist Haushofer, the migration of skilled workers can also encourage investment in human capital. Show others that studying can be worthwhile and provide a path to professional development.
Return of “brains”?
Working in another country does not necessarily prevent migrants from contributing to their countries’ economy beyond remittances.
“I will definitely continue to be involved with the health system in Zambia as much as possible, and I am very happy to mentor Zambian youth who are interested in research,” Dorothy says.
It has already done so in the past. During a medical fellowship in Canada, he helped organize a trip for his fellow Zambians to learn about radiation oncology there. Dorothy still wants to return to Zambia one day.
This is no surprise to Hoshofer. “A lot of immigrants are doing it with the intention of returning,” says the economist. “The training they receive abroad is usually of high quality and benefits the country of origin,” he adds.
So, while an expert’s departure may create a void, especially in the healthcare sector, there are many other obvious benefits to home countries of professionals moving abroad. Digital transformation also helps increase its ability to play a role in these economies. Remote work also provides more and more opportunities for immigrants to contribute to their home country. It also allows someone like Dorothy to mentor health professionals in Zambia.
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