EAHForum’s report: Can the diaspora impact Africa’s health? “From Brain Drain to Brain Gain

The meeting was opened by Dorothy Mukasa, a Commissioning Manager in the NHS.

 

The first speaker was Dr Wangui Manguyu, a Paediatric Anaesthetist at Brighton Hospital, and the Chairman of the East African Healthcare Forum. She described her background (she is originally from Kenya but trained in the UK, and is planning to return to Kenya to work) and also spoke about the founding of EAHForum, its strategy and the events it has held since its inception.

 

She was followed by Dr Abiodun Fakokunde, former Secretary of MANSAG (Medical Association of Nigerians Across Great Britain). He spoke about how the Association came to be, the adjustments they have made to their strategy over time, and the successes of the organisation. He invited those present to attend MANSAG’s upcoming conference in Cardiff.

 

The audience then heard from Dr Margaret Mungherera, President of the World Medical Association (WMA). She described the health challenges facing Africa and WHO’s focus on health systems in Africa. She described the inability of African countries to meet the 2015 Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and spoke of her support of WHO’s decision to focus on strengthening health systems rather than the previous approach of tackling single diseases, such as AIDS, TB and Malaria. Primary health care should be a focus even as countries continue to pursue the MDGs.

She described what is needed – better governance, a focus on prevention, better laws & funding, and a focus on primary health care services. She also spoke about focus on research, and the need for more effective professional leadership. This is the aim of her project, the African Medical Initiative. This Initiative aims to build the capacity of National Medical Associations (NMAs) in Africa so that they can the play a more effective role in strengthening healthcare systems. She described her work thus far in meeting with NMAs in 4 regions of Africa, and the development of 8 Thematic areas for capacity building. She then encouraged Diaspora to engage as a resource for their in-country NMAs and also participate in activities to strengthen the health systems in their countries of origin.

 

After this there was a short Q&A session.

 

The next speaker was Professor Vivienne Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities at the British Medical Association (BMA). She assured attendees that Dr Mungherera’s successor as President of the WMA also had a keen interest in African Healthcare systems, particularly those in Francophone Africa. She reiterated the BMA’s support of diaspora doctors through provision of free advice to new doctors, as well as lobbying the government with regards to immigration laws. She reminded attendees of the BMA’s support of volunteering through linking people to volunteering organisations as well as through funding. With regards to the WMA, she described the strengthening of links between country National Medical Associations (NMAs), for example Canada sharing ethics and law expertise with other NMAs. She also spoke of her concern regarding the successor to the MDGs – universal health coverage – as she explained; universal health access does not mean universal health access. Finally, she encouraged BMA members to get involved in policy making, for example through online discussions, and reminded us that evidence, so important in medical practice, is also vital when lobbying government about policy decisions.

 

She was followed by two brief but stimulating talks. The first was Ronald Lutaaya who spoke on Time Banking. He encouraged attendees to see their time as a currency which can be used as an asset. This would help shift the paradigm from money to time; and as time is seen as an asset, it begins to be used as a currency. For example, diaspora’s time to could be used develop health policies in their country of origin via online conferencing.

He was followed by a talk on Telemedicine by Dr Julius Awakame, founder of the West African Health Informatics Fellowship Program (WAHIFP). He stimulated the audience by telling us about WAHIFP’s creation, its collaborators (up to 20 academic centres and institutions) and its development into an institution to train students in Health Informatics as well as become the West African hub for e-health. He talked about the willingness of institutions to support African Healthcare systems, but mentioned that their willingness to help has hitherto been limited by lack of transparent leadership in African institutions.

 

The final speaker was Dr Sakib Rokadia, who had recently volunteered with King’s Health Partners (KHP) to combat the Ebola epidemic in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He described the Healthcare delivery system in Sierra Leone and KHP’s 3-pronged approach to strengthening this system (clinical, training and policy). Volunteers go over for 6 months or longer. However, since March 2014, the Ebola crisis has caused over 2,500 (at that time) deaths and he described the challenges that were faced. Initially, there were diagnostic challenges. Also, local people had a poor concept of infection control, hampering containment efforts. However, after an initial slow response, increased international collaboration led to the development of systems to strengthen infection control, identify cases and support local healthcare workers. He spoke about planned new treatment centres to address the increasing caseload faced in the affected countries, and described the ways in which diaspora could help – by volunteering, funding, or advocacy and support (e.g. through social media).

As an addendum, Dr Titilola Banjoko informed the audience of a recently agreed project to support NHS staff wishing to volunteer in Sierra Leone. This project would support their employer to release the staff and ensure that their posts were held for them on their return.

 

The audience then had a Q&A session followed by a break.

 

After the break, participants took part in four facilitated workshops: Lecturing and CPD in Africa; Time banking; Medical Approach to long term conditions and Medical Approach to Infectious diseases. These workshops will enable EAHForum to engage with attendees and move forward in developing strategies to achieve its aim of supporting healthcare systems in Africa.

 

It was a successful event and EAHForum thanks the speakers and attendees for their contribution.

Leave a Reply