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he Commonwealth protects the rights of education and healthcare professionals who migrate abroad while helping developing countries to address the loss of skilled workers

Addressing the brain drain in health and education

The challenge

In some developing Commonwealth countries there are as many as 100 students per teacher. Many of the same countries also face huge shortages of healthcare workers. According to the World Health Organization, an extra 7.2 million healthcare workers were needed globally in 2013. That figure is expected to rise to 12.9 million by 2035. Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly affected – 11 countries are without medical schools and 24 have only one.

These issues are compounded by the loss of skilled teachers and healthcare professionals recruited to fill resource gaps in developed countries. The ‘brain drain’ has seen some Commonwealth member states lose their most experienced teachers, while significant numbers of healthcare professionals in other countries have also sought opportunities abroad.

Commonwealth action

The Commonwealth Code of Practice for the International Recruitment of Health Workers, adopted in May 2003, was a global first that provided a set of guiding principles for recruiters. It was developed by representatives of Commonwealth health ministries based on research and information from Commonwealth countries. It aims to offset the effects of the brain drain without imposing restrictions on freedom of movement.

Operating on a voluntary basis, the code asks recruiters to ensure expatriates receive the same pay and career development opportunities as national staff, and encourages destination countries to assist source countries in recouping lost expertise through supporting training programmes, transferring technology and skills, or facilitating the return of migrant health workers.

In 2004, drawing on the success of the health worker code, Commonwealth countries adopted the Commonwealth Teacher Recruitment Protocol. This addresses the rights and responsibilities of source and recruiting countries, and has been noted for balancing the rights of teachers to migrate internationally on a temporary or permanent basis against the need to protect national education systems.

Global value

Commonwealth protocols on health and education help to protect the rights of teachers and healthcare professionals and assist governments in managing human capital and the effects of migration.

The teacher protocol is recognised as an example of international good practice by organisations such as UNESCO, the International Labour Organization, the Organization of American States, and the African Union.

The healthcare worker protocol informed the World Health Organization’s Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2010, and has led to the development of regional and bilateral agreements – notably the Pacific Code of Practice for the Recruitment of Health Workers.