Uganda: Investing in nurses and  then exporting them

Lilian N. Luyima

What you need to know: is considered as “stealing or poaching” of already scarce human resources of poverty-stricken countries

The Ugandan nurses are trained for both domestic and international purposes of delivering care to patients. However, because of the international shortage of nurses, we are starting to see a huge number of nurses from Uganda turn to international employment and leave their homeland for better wages and bigger opportunities.

This leads to depletion of these well-trained nurses and placing Uganda’s’ healthcare in a vulnerable situation.

On April 16, President Museveni met with a British delegation at State Lodge Nakasero, and it was agreed that Uganda will start exporting more of its best trained nurses to work in UK and negotiations are underway with the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health.

As of May 12, the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council (UNMC) had a total of 70,167 registered nurses and midwives. However, only 48,000 of these are in employment and serve a population of 48 million Ugandans.

International Nurses Day (IND) 2022 was observed on May 12 in Kamuli District under the theme Nurses: A voice to lead – invest in nursing and respect rights to secure global health, focusing on the need to protect, support and invest in the nursing profession to strengthen health systems around the world.

The government invests in the training of nurses at certificate, diploma, bachelors and masters levels among others. However, the rate at which these are recruited into the healthcare system is very low and worrying. Uganda uses fixed government approved norms determined by health facility type.

However, this approach cannot distinguish between facilities of the same type that have different staffing needs.

In other aspects of looking at international nurse recruitment, it is considered as “stealing or poaching” of already scarce human resources of poverty-stricken countries, but the fact that the Ugandan government encourages migration of its own nurses to other countries and promoting nurses as one of the export products offered, international migration of nurses away from their homeland cannot be considered as poaching or stealing.

The migration of nurses from a developing country like Uganda has some advantages and disadvantages. This can lead to economic development for the Ugandans but may also lead to poor healthcare delivered to the local people at the same time. Although the remittance coming from the nurses working abroad helps in development of the Ugandan economy, there is no reassurance that this can actually help in the country’s healthcare.

Therefore, to improve the situation regarding nurses’ shortage for Uganda after migration, I recommend that the government through the Ministry of Health first finds a balance between the importance given towards the economic growth of the country and the kind of healthcare delivered for the local people.

Additionally, I also recommend that the Ministry of Health considers workload to determine the number and type of staff required in a given health facility.

Ms Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima; BSc Nurse & MSN-Midwife & Women’s’ Health Specialist.