For years now, the “brain drain” debate surrounding young people from African countries going abroad to study or work has raged fiercely. The departure of so many has often raised concerns that the continent will struggle to develop if its sharpest minds relocate overseas. Or is it?
These talented professionals can resettle abroad, acquire new skills before returning with new specialties to educate local people. Here are some of Africa’s top doctors who have returned home to make a difference.
Oheneba Boachie Adjei, Ghana – For years, this pioneering Ghanaian orthopedic surgeon has practiced in the U.S., but the pull of Ghana continued to weigh on him. In 1998, Adjei founded Focus, a Ghana-based foundation of orthopedics and complex spine. Last year, he decided to return to his country to run the organization, which in turn had become the backbone infrastructure for The Focus Orthopedic Hospital in Accra.
Back in Ghana, 65-year-old Adjei was shocked by the spectrum of diseases ranging from severe and dangerous to treat in comparison to the “mild to moderate” conditions he witnessed in New York. He says his goal now is to pass on his expertise to students in his homeland.
“I don’t want to be like the only person who can do this,” he says. “I’d rather have four or five people who can do this. I’d rather say ‘we’ can do this, not just ‘me.’ I like ‘we’ better than ‘I.’”
Bosede Afolabi, Nigeria – After completing her initial medical degree in Nigeria, Afolabi worked in the UK for several years before returning to her homeland. Now an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Afolabi consults twice a week at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, where she provides her immeasurable expertise to suffering mothers while continuing her crucial research towards cutting maternal mortality in the country.
Ola Orekunrin, Nigeria – Orekunrin’s sister died at age 12 due to lack of medical facility in the region while traveling in Nigeria. This tragic moment played a pivotal part in redirecting the British-born, Nigerian heritage doctor-in-training towards a new medical path – air ambulance operations.
In 2010, the entrepreneur – who had a promising career in the UK – quit her job, sold her assets and returned to her family roots in Lagos founding Flying Doctors Nigeria, the first medical air service in West Africa. “From patients with road traffic trauma, to bomb blast injuries to gunshot wounds, we save lives by moving these patients and providing a high level of care en route.”
Betty Gikonyo, Kenya – Upon returning from the U.S., Gikonyo has become a leading pediatric cardiologist in Kenya. Focused on improving access to quality healthcare, she helped establish the Heart to Heart Foundation, which raises funds for disadvantaged children to receive lifesaving surgery.
Working at the Karen Hospital – a leading medical facility on the outskirts of Nairobi that she helped found – the passionate practitioner has made it her mission to mend hearts of children.
Godwin Godfrey, Tanzania – Godfrey is from the small town of Moshi, in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. As his country’s only qualified pediatric heart surgeon, he is constantly battling inconsistent electricity, lack of equipment and a shortage of trained medics while on his quest to help some of the 300 suffering children, who await surgery at Tanzania’s largest teaching hospital.
“Somebody has to do something – and this is one of the reasons I came back,” said Godfrey, who returned to Tanzania after five years work experience in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Denis Mukwege, Congo – In a country suffering from the devastating after-effects of a brutal war, Denis Mukwege has become a shining beacon for rape victims. As the medical director of the Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo, the pioneering practitioner has dedicated his life’s work to providing a much-needed sanctuary for women abused during conflict.
The highly-celebrated doctor studied medicine at home before moving away to France for several years to gain experience and skills before returning to the DRC. “Work is not only about money… Earning money is not the sum total of life. Life is not about living in abundance. It’s about what you can give to somebody else.”
Kachinga Sichizya, Zambia – From the small town of Mulfulira, Zambia, this highly-trained doctor has dedicated his efforts to provide medical services for sick children and later found his calling in neurosurgery. He practiced in Zimbabwe, South Africa and was set to relocate to Australia. But his ties to his homeland were stronger as he recalled “Zambia needed manpower.” Today he can be found doing rounds at Lusaka’s Beit CURE hospital, where he is one of a handful of neurosurgeons practicing in the region.
“You see the mothers come with this notion that this child, no one can touch him/her, who is always hidden at home. But here I take every child into my hands and show them love, reassure them that I am going to do the best for them.
(Courtesy of Lauren Said-Moorhouse: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/05/africa/gallery/african-medical-heroes/)