Using the best available information, researchers calculated that 70,000 African-born professional nurses were working overseas in developed countries in the year 2000.
The fraction of health professionals working overseas varies enormously across African countries, from 1% to over 70%, they said in the latest edition of the online journal Human Resources for Health.
For example, for every Gambian professional nurse working in Gambia, about two live in a developed country overseas.
But study author Michael Clemens, research fellow at the Center for Global Development in Massachusetts, said the international movement of African health professionals was a complex moral issue.
‘A Kenyan nurse working in London isn’t taking care of sick people in Kenya but that nurse is pursuing professional possibilities that aren’t available to her at home – something of inherent value,’ he said.
‘The amount of good she can do at home is often constrained by dazzlingly complex problems in the health system, problems utterly ignored by the blunt coercion of recruitment bans,’ he added.
The number of nurses entering the UK from developing countries has been reduced significantly since the introduction of the Home Office ‘shortage occupation list’ in 2006, which meant only nurses in band 7 or 8, or with certain specialisms, could be recruited from overseas.