Stemming the brain drain | Daily News

Stemming the brain drain

Health Minister Dr. Keheliya Rambukwella says action will be taken against 36 specialist doctors who were sent abroad for higher medical training but failed to return to the country. They were among the 400 doctors sent overseas in 2020 for further training.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Dr. Susil Premajayantha says a large number of university teachers who went abroad on sabbatical leave had violated their bonds by not returning to the country. “University teachers are allowed to go abroad on sabbatical leave. Yet they sign a bond which stipulates them to return”. He also said that the university system operates with a shortage of 2,000 teachers and there were 1,000 university teachers who work on probation.

The flight of professionals from the country following the Sinhala Only Act and subsequently the ethnic conflict was bad enough. Now we have a much more serious problem to contend with - the exodus of academics responsible for imparting knowledge that would create the next generation of professionals. The flight of those in the medical profession at a time of an acute shortage of doctors in the country too should be viewed with seriousness.

As Minister Rambukwella said, they cannot stop doctors from leaving the country at the airport. But the Government has to create the right conditions for retaining these professionals. No doubt, the shortage of medicines and the lack of proper medical equipment in the hospitals is a cause for frustration among medical professionals forcing them to look elsewhere. The economic crisis too is another factor that is driving the exodus.

The country’s professionals are also a disgruntled lot following the introduction of the new tax regime which has eaten substantially into their income.

However, nothing can justify these doctors opting to stay back after having their entire education funded by the Government, or more to the point, the public. They are badly letting down their country by their deeds. It is tantamount to the worst form of treachery. It is reported that the Government spends Rs. 500,000 to turn out a single graduate and much more in the case of a medical graduate.

Drastic measures, therefore, should be applied to stem the flow of doctors, academics and other professionals. Government doctors, especially specialists should be made to serve a specific period in the country before entertaining thoughts for migrating. They should at least give something back to the country which made them what they are. If push comes to the shove measures should be taken to seize all their assets and freeze their bank accounts too. It is only right that the taxpayer is given back what he/she has spent for the education of these professionals who had thrived on the country’s free education system only to turn their back on the Motherland at its most crucial hour.

The steps taken by Minister Rambukwella to appoint 460 more interns to Government hospitals at the end of their training is a welcome step at a time that the health sector is grappling with a serious shortage of doctors. In fact, according to the GMOA there is a shortage of as much as 4,000 doctors in the country and is it any surprise that at a certain rural hospital only a single doctor is in service resulting in patients having to be turned away and vital surgeries put on hold.

The GMOA itself should be held partly responsible for the acute shortage of doctors in the country through agitating against the SAITM and its stiff opposition to private medical colleges. The health sector is paying a heavy price for these follies.

Realizing the need for rebuilding the health sector, in a prudent move, President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently pledged to raise the annual intake into Medical College from 1,500 to 3,000. This hopefully in the long run will fulfill the total requirement of doctors in the country.

Similarly other measures also should be thought of to stem the brain drain such as offering attractive incentives and conducive work environments plus political and social stability. No doubt, the recent wave of protests, agitations and chaos leading to a general dislocation could also be a factor for professionals leaving the country in their droves.

Who will want to remain in the country in the backdrop of social insecurity and uncertainty? Hence, those stoking unrest including politicians representing the Opposition should also take the blame for the flight of talent. Both Sajith Premadasa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) aspiring to lead the country someday would themselves be facing the stark reality that they have been left a country sans her best brains.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena once invited all professionals who left the country, for whatever reasons, to return and serve the Motherland, in turn offering all facilities and privileges to make it worth their while. It is not clear what the response was. But going by the present ground reality, this appeal had largely gone unheeded. It is not just the facilities and incentives that count, but more importantly a conducive, trouble free environment and especially political and economic stability.

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