African Brain Drain — Cause or Effect?

The BBC ran a story in October about a study of the African brain drain. The study, conducted by the Pollution Research Group at Natal University in South Africa, claimed that a third of all skilled professionals in Africa have left that continent to pursue careers in the West. The study put the total cost to African countries of this brain drain at $4 billion. But the study seems to have cause and effect reversed.

Specifically, the report claims that as a result of the brain drain, African economic growth has been hampered and poverty increased. No, sorry, but it’s the other way around. Lack of economic growth and rampant poverty — often caused by political repression and a lack of freedoms — is what motivates African professionals to flee their own countries.

Consider South Africa. In 2001 South AFrica’s Education Minister Kadar Asmal accused Great Britain of unfairly raiding South Africa for teachers, and president Thabo Mbeki himself has called for a reversal of the outflow of scientists and engineers from South Africa to the West. This from a man who has defended pseudoscientific ideas such as the notion that HIV does not cause AIDS, and whose political party has tried to clamp down on criticism from South Africa’s press.

The amazing thing is not that Africa loses about 23,000 qualified academic professionals each year, but rather that even more don’t choose to leave given the sorry state of African governance. When are people like Mbeki and Asmal going to stop blaming others for their predicament and start focusing on righting their own ship?

Source:

Brian drain costs Africa billions. The BBC, October 17, 2001.

African Brain Drain — Cause or Effect?

The BBC ran a story in October about a study of the African brain drain. The study, conducted by the Pollution Research Group at Natal University in South Africa, claimed that a third of all skilled professionals in Africa have left that continent to pursue careers in the West. The study put the total cost to African countries of this brain drain at $4 billion. But the study seems to have cause and effect reversed.

Specifically, the report claims that as a result of the brain drain, African economic growth has been hampered and poverty increased. No, sorry, but it’s the other way around. Lack of economic growth and rampant poverty — often caused by political repression and a lack of freedoms — is what motivates African professionals to flee their own countries.

Consider South Africa. In 2001 South AFrica’s Education Minister Kadar Asmal accused Great Britain of unfairly raiding South Africa for teachers, and president Thabo Mbeki himself has called for a reversal of the outflow of scientists and engineers from South Africa to the West. This from a man who has defended pseudoscientific ideas such as the notion that HIV does not cause AIDS, and whose political party has tried to clamp down on criticism from South Africa’s press.

The amazing thing is not that Africa loses about 23,000 qualified academic professionals each year, but rather that even more don’t choose to leave given the sorry state of African governance. When are people like Mbeki and Asmal going to stop blaming others for their predicament and start focusing on righting their own ship?

Source:

Brian drain costs Africa billions. The BBC, October 17, 2001.

South African Court Orders AIDS Drug to Be Given to Pregnant Women

For years now, the government of South Africa has refused to allow the distribution of the anti-AIDS drug nevirapine to pregnant women. In December 2001, the Pretoria High Court ordered the government to provide the drug to HIV-postive pregnant women, but incredibly the government insists it will appeal the ruling.

Nevirapine is used widely around the world to reduce the risk of an HIV-positive mother passing along the disease to her unborn child. Studies show that pregnant women taking the drug cut in half the risk of passing HIV along to their children.

Although 200 HIV-positive infants are born every day in South Africa, the government has refused to allow distribution of the drug. The government claims it is not sure the drug is safe, although it has been tested extensively. It also argues that the drug is too expensive, but the drugs’ maker, Boehringer Inglheim, has offered to provide the drug free of charge to South Africa for at least the next five years.

The real reason the drug has not been distributed seems to be due to people within the government — including president Thabo Mbeki — who do not believe that HIV causes AIDS.

Source:

SA to fight Aids drug ruling. The BBC, December 19, 2001.

Do Drug Patents Present a Major Obstacle to AIDS Treatment in Africa?

For the past several years AIDS activists have charged that patents on HIV antivirals has significantly harmed the ability of African nations to respond to the AIDS crisis. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, however, suggests that this is simply not the case.

Researcher Amir Attaran, an adjunct lecturer in public policy and a researcher at the Center for International Development, examined the status of patents on anti-AIDS drugs and found that, in fact, most such drugs were not patented in African nations. Looking at the patent status of 15 drugs in 53 African countries, they found only 172 actually existing patents for such drugs out of the 795 patents that might exist. In fact, in several African countries there were no patents on any existing HIV drugs — and, therefore, no legal barriers to using generic versions of patented AIDS drugs — but almost no treatment of AIDS patients with those antivirals.

Not surprisingly, the real obstacle to treating HIV in Africa is the continent’s endemic poverty. According to Attaran, even with generics AIDS treatment is still going to cost $350 per person in countries that typically budget less than $10 per person in their health budgets.

Attaran could have also added to the obstacles state resistance to the reality of the AIDS epidemic. Just this month, for example, South Africa’s government stepped into a major controversy over its continuing suppression of an internal government report on the AIDS epidemic in that country. The report was suppressed largely because it called for the widespread use of anti-HIV drugs — an approach which continues to be opposed by South African president Thabo Mbeki (Mbeki has, in the past, turned down large donations of HIV drugs in accordance with this policy).

Sources:

One Expert’s Opinion: Amir Attaran Says New Study Shows that Patents Are Not the Obstacle to HIV Treatment in Africa. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard), Press Release, October 22, 2001.

Do patents for antiretroviral drugs constrain access to AIDS treatment in Africa? Amir Attaran, Lee Gillespie-White, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2001;286:1886-1892.

Best… UN Racism Conference Quote… Ever

Salon.Com has a look at the World Conference Against Racism. Apparently for its opening session with the 8,000 delegates, the South African group coordinating the conference actually chose Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro to greet the delegates. Unbelievable. Russian human rights activist Yuri Dzhibladze had the best take on this development,

I was shocked. showed a very bad understanding of this forum, and the meaning of the term ‘human rights.’ Listening to Fidel speak, we only had to wonder why the organizers had failed to invite Saddam Hussein, or a representative of the Taliban regime.

U.S. to South Africa: Give Us Our Space Junk Back

Maybe it’s just me, but if I dumped my garbage on my neighbor’s lawn, I think I would be in a pretty lousy negotiating position to demand that he return something valuable that I accidentally tossed in there. And yet the United States is demanding that South Africa return three pieces of space debris that crashed outside Cape Town last year.

The South Africans have apparently put the debris in a museum which has been a popular attraction for children in that country. Given the state of American courts, I say we just thank our lucky stars they’re not suing us and let the South Africans keep our space junk.