According to a media reports in the Caribbean, many islands in the region is facing a public health crisis because healthcare professionals being poached by north American and European companies. Dominica is reintroducing a training programme for healthcare nurses to address the rise of deaths caused by the rise in chronic Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs). Reportedly, Dominica’s prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit at his recent swearing-in of Cabinet Minister following the snap elections that happened on December 6 announced, “ Today, I am announcing today that we are going to go back to training primary healthcare nurses in Dominica,”
“These nurses have to be in the villages, in the communities.” Skerrit emphasized the need for the nurses to not just stay in health centres but also “go back to house visits and home visits to see where the patients live.”
Reportedly, NCDs, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and high blood pressure, are said to be the leading causes of death in Dominica in the past decade and a half. However, this step by Skerrit has come at a time when Caribbean nations are suffering from a massive brain drain of healthcare workers.
The nurses brain drain
Commentators have noted that Caribbean nations are suffering from a massive brain drain especially among qualified nurses from their island to the more lucrative markets in the UK, US and Canada.
The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) conducted a study in 2019 into some of the causes of the significant exodus of nurses from the English-speaking Caribbean, suggests that many nurses did show a desire to go back. But, the offerings by western shareholders stops them.
Overall, healthcare professionals have moved to western countries in search of better opportunities. But as a result, the Caribbean has become a very healthcare-poor region. Since 2018, 84 nurses left the Grenada following their recruitment by a British agency which interviewed them for employment in the UK and elsewhere.
Reportedly, the immense pressure during the pandemic wrecked the entire healthcare sector. The situation was so deplorable during the 2021 delta wave that Grenada’s health minister had to acknowledge that island’s healthcare system was on the verge of collapse as Grenada experienced the first wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the period from August to October in 2021.
Similar scenes were also visible in nations like Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, and thus, after a long hiatus, the nations have started to focus on re-calibration.
Island government finally respond
Caribbean governments are attempting to re-address the trend and motivate healthcare workers to remain in the nations. For instance, Dominica, Grenada have also announced a monthly honorarium of EC$ 500 (£150) for nurses and healthcare workers to motivate them to remain in the country. Prior to that, Caribbean health professionals from various nations had also met and discussed ways to strengthen health system resilience, following the COVID-19 impact.
Due to political crises, natural disasters, and widespread poverty, the public health facilities all across the Caribbean are in a state of disrepair and require significant government investment.
However, commentators have suggested, if wages, working conditions, and employment possibilities drastically improved, over 74% of employees who currently reside in North America and Europe would seriously consider moving. This is according to the same PAHO report from 2019.