Exporting Indian healthcare workers to the world

At a time when countries are closing borders and slowing migration, health workers are the exception.

Qualifying and sending Indian healthcare workers abroad is one way to boost employment. If India were to invest in building the capacity of its health workforce, it could meet its own needs and those of the world.

The Maldives, which had so far managed to dodge the pandemic and remain open to tourism, was recently plunged into a crisis as COVID cases began to rise and the island nation ran out of doctors and money. nurses, the New York Times reported. The Maldives buys almost all of its health workers from India, but India, amid its own health crisis, has been unable to provide any assistance.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been similarly affected, as a travel ban on flights from India after the start of the second wave left hundreds of its health workers from India stranded. They received special permission to travel to the United Arab Emirates last week. The Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, along with many other countries, depend heavily on India for the supply of healthcare workers.

Exporting healthcare workers from India to boost employment

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), which is responsible for qualifying the workforce, identified the health sector as a major source of employment. The ministry announced that it will provide 300,000 healthcare workers, doctors, nurses and paramedics to countries such as the United States (United States), United Kingdom (United Kingdom), Germany, l Australia, Japan, Sweden and Singapore by 2022. These workers would not be permanent immigrants but employees in sectors where there is both demand and demographic challenge, as various publications report.

The training and exporting of health workers from India is part of the MSDE initiative to link the Indian labor market with other countries. In addition to healthcare, sectors like automotive, construction, industrial machinery and hospitality have been identified to send skilled workers overseas. The increasing aging of the world’s population over the next three decades is expected to create an increased demand for healthcare workers, representing an opportunity for the Indian workforce.

For a country like India with its demographic dividend, preparing for and investing in global labor mobility is a solution to the jobs crisis, which has worsened with the pandemic.

Migrant-friendly policies for health workers

India, which has the largest number of medical schools in the world (541), is one of the largest exporters of healthcare workers to the developed world – European countries, Gulf region, United States , United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. Data available from 2017 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that there were 69,000 Indian doctors working in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, and 56,000 Indian nurses working in these four countries in the same year.

At a time when countries are closing borders and slowing migration, health workers are the exception. A recent OECD report highlighted the status of migrant healthcare workers as key assets during the COVID-19 pandemic. The share of foreign-born doctors in countries like Australia and Luxembourg was over 50% and foreign-born nurses over 30% in Switzerland, Australia and Israel.

Many OECD countries, which already depended on migrant health workers before the pandemic, have implemented additional policy measures to facilitate their entry and the recognition of their professional qualifications, the report says. The UK had granted one-year visa extensions to foreign health workers in April, a move that would likely benefit Indian doctors and nurses the most. The extension was granted as part of the new health and care visa launched in the UK last year, to enable global healthcare professionals to work “easier, cheaper and faster” in the industry. from the NHS and affiliated social services. The United States also announced visa exemptions for healthcare workers last year.

Indian nurses – India is the world’s largest source of nurses after the Philippines – have been offered additional salaries and benefits since the start of the pandemic. A report on the surge in demand for nurses from India in listed countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Malta, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. The data was collected from Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants (ODEPC), which is run by the Government of Kerala and said they sent 253 nurses overseas in February this year, up from an average of 40 per month.

India’s health gap

While the potential for training and sending health workers abroad is enormous, there are pitfalls. Despite a capacity of 80,312 MBBS seats per year, according to data shared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India faces a shortage of doctors and nurses. This despite an overall increase over the past decade – the number of physicians registered with the State Medical Boards / Medical Council of India rose to 1,255,786 in September 2020 from 827,006 in 2010.

Government data from 2020 shows India has a doctor-to-population ratio of 1: 1,404, well below the World Health Organization (WHO) prescribed ratio of 1: 1,000 and 1.7 nurses to 1 000 population, 43% below the WHO prescribed ratio of 3 per 1,000. The shortage is attributed to an uneven distribution between states and rural and urban India. The shortage raises the age-old debate about the brain drain and the need to urge health workers to stay behind, especially after COVID-19 ravaged India’s healthcare system.

The migration of doctors and nurses from India is being boosted by higher wages and better opportunities. If countries like the United States attract doctors from developing countries where they are already scarce, it is an ethical and political debate. However, as a report by the Migration Policy Institute identified, conditions in India lead to a push factor, such as lack of investment in health care by the government, delays in appointing health professionals. health problems caused by bureaucratic interference and the lack of residency places available for graduate doctors.

Addressing these gaps requires more investment in health infrastructure, vocational colleges and technical education, as well as policies that improve the capacity and quality of the health workforce. The new legislation, the National Commission for Allied Professions and Health Act 2021, is one such measure to maintain and regulate standards of education and service for health care workers. If India tackled the push factors for migration, it could retain health workers at home to meet its needs as well as the global supply.

The opportunity in the global healthcare sector for the Indian workforce is huge and does not have to be a prime situation between the country and abroad. Agile policymaking could go a long way, as researchers at the Kerala International Institute for Migration and Development have suggested, as a circular migration policy where countries could agree to share essential human health resources and agree to send migrant health workers home in case of urgent need. We have already seen evidence of this in the recent crisis in India, when Indian doctors from overseas stepped in to lend a hand.

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