September #127 : U.S. Steal - by Erin Baer

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September 2006

U.S. Steal

by Erin Baer

Our immigration reform could poach health workers from countries ailing for more care

The Immigration Reform Act of 2006 sparked protests and controversy about immigrant rights nationwide this past spring, but a little known provision, Section 505, could export the bill’s fallout to HIV positive people internationally. The clause lifts immigration caps on foreign health care workers seeking to enter the country, luring an unlimited number stateside. (At press time, the Reform Act was detained in committee.) Many nations, especially in Africa, have a severe health care worker shortage—or “brain drain”—and are hemorrhaging talent. “The bill means countries won’t be able to scale up treatment and prevention programs,” says Eric Friedman, of Physicians for Human Rights.

David Allen of the American Hospital Association counters, “Shortages in the U.S. are putting the field in dire straits. We’re not going to turn away foreign health care workers.” Indeed, there are 118,000 domestic medical vacancies. Yet parts of Kenya have one doctor per 10,000 people, and the World Health Organization estimates that sub-Saharan Africa needs at least one million more health workers. Is there a doctor in the hut?    

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