In our last week’s edition of The Guardian on Sunday, we published a lead story detailing how expensive it is to train a single doctor, with conservative estimates showing that it costs between $40,000 (Sh60 million) and $60,000 (Sh90million) to train a single doctor in our local universities.
This cost could double if the doctors are trained abroad, especially in Europe and the United States of America.
Roughly speaking, we found that the sacked 300 doctors have cost the Tanzanian taxpayers a whopping Sh20 billion to train. In calculating the simple arithmetic of winners and losers, we established that the government’s decision to sack the 300 doctors would cost the country more than the benefits the move was intended to gain.
Our survey used a study conducted by Canadian scientists last year, which was published in November 2011 by the British Medical Journal, as a benchmark to calculate the cost of medical education and the loss of returns on investment for Tanzania and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
With Tanzania being among sub-Saharan African countries which lost about $2 billion (Sh3.1 trillion) by mid last year invested in the training of doctors, who, however, ended up migrating to more prosperous developed nations, the loss resulting from the sacking of the 300 doctors could worsen the health situation in the country.
According to the research by the Canadian scientists, it costs between $59,000 and $21,000 to train a single doctor in East and Southern Africa - putting an average cost of training a doctor in a country like Tanzania at $40,000. To put things in the proper perspective, the 300 doctors sacked by the government last week cost the taxpayer $12 million (Sh18.96 billion) to train. The study found that while poor countries such as Tanzania invested heavily in the training of doctors, the countries ended up suffering in terms of brain drain due to the doctors emigrating, while Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States benefited the most by recruiting the doctors trained abroad.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tanzania has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in the world, with one doctor for every 30,000 people. In the United States there is one doctor for every 300 people. To provide even basic healthcare, Tanzania is 89,000 healthcare workers short. By 2019, without intervention, the gap is expected to exceed 100,000. This being the situation today we ask whether Tanzania can afford sacking all these doctors, which we trained at a very expensive cost. Sacking medics who cost the nation dearly to train just because the government has failed to find a more acceptable and wise way of ending the doctors’ strike is unjustifiable, to say the least.
Yesterday some foreign media reported the exodus of Tanzanian doctors migrating to Southern Africa in search for greener pastures. Previously Botswana benefited a lot by taking Tanzanian doctors but, according to the latest media reports, now other Southern African countries have joined the rush to lure our doctors to their countries.
Ironically, while we were busy quarrelling with our doctors as well as torturing some of them, Rwanda last week placed an advert seeking to recruit more doctors from the East African region.
Even if our government sacked and cancelled the licences of all the striking doctors, it wouldn’t stop their migration to Rwanda, or any other countries in the world for that matter, where they believe they are more valued and the Tanganyika Medical Board’s sway counts for naught.
For it’s not the licence that counts but the brains and expertise which matter. While they may be barred from practicing in Tanzania, elsewhere their skills and experience are highly sought.
Whether we like it or not, in the final analysis it’s the government and the people who will end up losing most in this game.