The exodus of health professionals from sub-Saharan Africa: balancing human rights and societal needs in the twenty-first century

Nurs Inq. 2007 Jun;14(2):114-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1800.2007.00358.x.


Increased international migration of health professionals is weakening healthcare systems in low-income countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. The migration of nurses, physicians and other health professionals from countries in sub-Saharan Africa poses a major threat to the achievement of health equity in this region. As nurses form the backbone of healthcare systems in many of the affected countries, it is the accelerating migration of nurses that will be most critical over the next few years. In this paper we present a comprehensive analysis of the literature and argue that, from a human rights perspective, there are competing rights in the international migration of health professionals: the right to leave one's country to seek a better life; the right to health of populations in the source and destination countries; labour rights; the right to education; and the right to non-discrimination and equality. Creative policy approaches are required to balance these rights and to ensure that the individual rights of health professionals do not compromise the societal right to health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Mortality
  • Developing Countries
  • Emigration and Immigration / statistics & numerical data*
  • Feminism
  • Foreign Professional Personnel / education
  • Foreign Professional Personnel / psychology
  • Foreign Professional Personnel / supply & distribution*
  • Health Policy
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / ethics
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / organization & administration*
  • Human Rights*
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Licensure, Nursing / statistics & numerical data
  • Life Expectancy
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Nursing Staff / education
  • Nursing Staff / psychology
  • Nursing Staff / supply & distribution*
  • Personnel Selection / ethics
  • Personnel Selection / organization & administration*
  • Prejudice
  • Social Justice / ethics