Zimbabwe is losing many of its health professionals, such as nurses. In response, the government is making it harder for them to move abroad through a number of legal restrictions. Government says this is necessary to stop the brain drain. But, in this article, Dr Gift Risinamhodzi, a Zimbabwean doctor working in the UK, argues that the government should, in fact, be equipping these nurses and helping them to leave.
Zimbabwe needs more nurses, not less. But the government is holding them back with outdated policies that limit their education and mobility.
In this article, I will show you why the government should let private companies open nursing colleges and let nurses emigrate freely. This would not only benefit the nurses themselves but also the country.
Zimbabwe is facing a severe brain drain of skilled professionals, including nurses, doctors, engineers, and plumbers. This is a serious threat to the country’s development and well-being. Some may think that restricting nurse emigration would help retain talent, but I disagree. We cannot afford to keep our nurses in a cage. We should let them fly and soar, and in return, create opportunities for remittances, knowledge transfer, and international cooperation.
The world is facing a demographic challenge: many developed countries have ageing populations and low birth rates. Some of them are even shrinking in size, as deaths outnumber births. This means that there are more elderly people who need care and support and fewer young people who can provide it and contribute to the economy. This is a problem that Zimbabwe can help solve if it allows private nursing schools to operate and more nurses to emigrate.
Enter immigrants from the ‘Third World‘
Zimbabwe has a young and vibrant population, but it lacks enough jobs and opportunities for them. Many African countries face the same challenge: they have more people entering the labour force than they can employ. Africa has about 10-12 million young people joining the labour force yearly. Africa is only able to create three million jobs. This drives many skilled and educated workers to seek better prospects abroad.
For example, when the UK offered a visa for care workers, thousands of Zimbabweans left their careers to start over in a different country. They did not do this because they loved the diaspora life, but because they could not survive in Zimbabwe. They would gladly return if they had decent living conditions at home.
Zimbabwe may be losing its best professionals, but it is also receiving valuable remittances from them. I am ashamed to admit, I am not optimistic about the future of Zimbabwe's economy, given the political situation and the lack of reforms. I expect more of the same for the next five years. But there is a way for Zimbabweans to cope with this crisis: nursing.
Nursing is a profession that is in high demand worldwide, and it offers many opportunities for personal and professional growth. Most first-world countries have nurses on their shortage occupation list and they desperately need nurses. I urge the Zimbabwe government to change its policy on nursing education and emigration.
Nurses in Zimbabwe are mostly trained in public institutions, where they receive a salary during their studies. This means they must work for the government for at least three years before they can emigrate. I propose a policy change that will allow more nurses to be trained in private colleges, where they pay for their education and have no obligation to stay in the country. This will increase the supply of nurses for both local and foreign markets and benefit our communities in Zimbabwe.
What is the current situation?
The government has made it impossible for nurses to get verification letters from the nursing council, which they need to work abroad. This was a response to the mass exodus of nurses from the country, due to poor working conditions and low pay.
The Health Minister, Constantino Chiwenga, has ordered the council to stop issuing verification letters to all nurses, regardless of their experience or bonding status. This affects even those who have already left Zimbabwe and want to move to another country. This is a clear violation of their rights, but that is not the main point of this article. I will discuss the folly of the health ministry’s decision another time. The point is that this policy does not stop nurses from leaving Zimbabwe. It only forces them to emigrate as unskilled carers, rather than as qualified professionals. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone.
According to statistics from the recent census, Zimbabwe has a young and restless population: 10 million people under 35, most of them jobless. They are wasting their potential in a stagnant economy when they could be contributing to their families and the nation. The diaspora shows the way: they send back US$1.66 billion every year, more than any foreign investor.
Lessons from the Philippines
As a country, Zimbabwe can learn from the Philippines, a country that earns billions of dollars from its nurses working abroad. Although the Philippine nursing model has its roots in colonial exploitation, it shows how a country can leverage its human capital to create opportunities and income for its people.
As a Zimbabwean medical doctor working in the UK, I have seen how Filipino nurses are valued and respected in the NHS. They are one of the largest and most skilled groups of nurses in the world, with a strong presence in the US, Canada, and Australia. The Philippines produces about 80,000 nurses every year from more than 450 nursing schools. These schools prepare their graduates for the global market, equipping them with the knowledge and competencies needed to succeed in different health systems.
By sending money back to their families, these nurses support their country's economy and development. Zimbabwe can emulate this strategy by investing in quality nursing education, facilitating migration pathways, and strengthening ties with its diaspora. This way, Zimbabwean nurses can make a positive impact both at home and abroad.
Some might argue that this idea is counterintuitive, that this is brain drain, a harmful phenomenon that deprives the country of its skilled professionals. But I disagree. This is an opportunity for us to recognize our potential, our value, and our contribution to the world. Zimbabwe has a surplus of labour, a young and eager workforce that cannot find jobs at home. This workforce is a precious asset that can meet the global demand for talent and skills.
Zimbabwe can benefit from its nurses working abroad, as they can earn more, send more money back home, and invest in the country’s development. The global north needs more nurses as its population ages, and Zimbabwe has a young and skilled workforce that can fill this gap. I know many nurses who have left Zimbabwe and started successful projects in their homeland, such as building houses, farms, and clinics. When Zimbabweans get capital, they almost invariably send it home to do some sort of investment. These are examples of how diaspora remittances can boost the economy and create opportunities.
We don’t need to rely on foreign investors, we have our people who are willing and able to invest in Zimbabwe. If we create a conducive environment for local businesses and trust funds, we can mobilize millions of dollars from our diaspora. Imagine what we can achieve if we train more nurses and support their migration and integration abroad.
How would this work?
Zimbabwe should reform its nursing industry model by allowing private nursing schools to operate alongside government training institutions. This would benefit the country in many ways.
First, private nursing schools would provide free labour to district hospitals, where they would train their students. Second, they would create jobs for tutors, staff, and builders. Third, they would produce nurses who are not bonded by the government and can migrate freely, sending remittances back home. The Nursing Council of Zimbabwe would ensure that the quality of education is maintained. The private nursing schools would be self-funded by their owners and fees. This is a triple win for Zimbabwe: more jobs, more health workers, and more foreign income.
Some might worry that this will cause a shortage of nurses in Zimbabwe, but this is not true. There are more applicants than places in government nursing schools, so there will always be enough nurses for the local needs. Moreover, not everyone wants to leave their country and face the challenges of living abroad, so there will be many nurses who will choose to stay. The government can retain more nurses by training more of them and paying them better.
The government’s policy of restricting nurses and doctors from leaving the country is counterproductive and oppressive. It does not serve the country but only breeds resentment and frustration among its citizens. A good government should empower its citizens to pursue their dreams and aspirations, wherever they may lead them. A good government should create opportunities for its citizens to contribute to the country’s development, whether at home or abroad. The policy needs to change. Zimbabwe deserves better.
Dr Gift Risinamhodzi is a Zimbabwean Doctor working in the United Kingdom. His greatest passion is unleashing the full potential of Primary Care