June 30, 2006

Cameroon seen losing all its doctors by 2009

By Tansa Musa

YAOUNDE, Jun (Reuters) - Cameroon could lose all of its
3,000 practicing doctors within three years if the government
does not act quickly to stem a brain drain in the health
sector, the national doctors' association said on Friday.

"Between now and 2009 if nothing is done to stop this mass
exodus our hospitals will be empty and the government may be
forced to undertake a massive recruitment of young doctors,"
Professor Tetanye Okie, vice president of the ONMC association,
told Reuters.

The West African country officially has about 3,000
practicing clinicians for its 17 million people but because
they are clustered in towns and cities, rural areas are often
left with one doctor for 40,000 inhabitants, Okie said.

Countries across the developing world are battling skill
shortages as qualified doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers
are lured by better pay and working conditions in the west.

Cameroon's government says it cannot afford to pay doctors
more but agreed on Friday the brain drain was reaching crisis

"The situation regarding human resources in the health
sector is critical," Public Health Minister Urbain Olanguena
Awono said. "Despite efforts to develop human resources, the
men in white coats still take their talent to rich countries."

More than 5,000 of Cameroon's doctors are working abroad
with up to 600 in the United States alone.

Professor Doh Anderson Sama a gynecologist in Yaounde
returned to Cameroon after completing his studies in Britain
due to family reasons but says he had received several
invitations to return there.

"If I were working there I would be earning about 10 times
what I am earning here today," he told Reuters.

One doctor who asked not to be named complained that
illiterate soldiers earn more money than doctors, and the
ONMC's Okie said the government must make health a priority by
raising wages.

"The government has to make a choice. And since no country
cannot do without its health service, particularly medical
doctors, for me the choice is very obvious," he said.