Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Brain drain of India’s health worker


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India's health worker brain drain

The article highlights the issue of shortage of healthcare workers in India even as it exports its healthcare workers to other countries.

India as an exporter of healthcare workers

  • For several decades, India has been a major exporter of healthcare workers to developed nations particularly to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Europe and other English-speaking countries.
  • As per OECD data, around 69,000 Indian trained doctors worked in the UK, US, Canada and Australia in 2017.
  • In these four countries, 56,000 Indian-trained nurses were working in the same year.
  • There is also large-scale migration of health workers to the GCC countries but there is a lack of credible data on the stock of such workers in these nations.
  • There is no real-time data on high-skilled migration from India as in the case of low-skilled and semi-skilled migration.

Shortage of nurses and doctors

  • The migration of healthcare workers is part of the reason for the shortage in nurses and doctors.
  • If we look at the figures for countries where we export our healthcare workers, we see just how big the difference is between the sending and the receiving countries.
  • As per government reports, India has 1.7 nurses per 1,000 population and a doctor to patient ratio of 1:1,404.
  • This is well below the WHO norm of 3 nurses per 1,000 population and a doctor to patient ratio of 1:1,100.
  • But, this does not convey the entire problem.
  • The distribution of doctors and nurses is heavily skewed against some regions.
  • Moreover, there is high concentration in some urban pockets.

Factors driving migration

  • There are strong pull factors associated with the migration of healthcare workers, in terms of higher pay and better opportunities in the destination countries.
  • However, there are strong push factors that often drive these workers to migrate abroad.
  • The low wages in private sector outfits along with reduced opportunities in the public sector plays a big role in them seeking employment opportunities outside the country.
  • The lack of government investment in healthcare and delayed appointments to public health institutions act as a catalyst for such migration.

Measures to check brain drain and issues with it

  • Over the years, the government has taken measures to check the brain drain of healthcare workers with little or no success.
  • In 2014, it stopped issuing No Objection to Return to India (NORI) certificates to doctors migrating to the US.
  • The NORI certificate is a US government requirement for doctors who migrate to America on a J1 visa and seek to extend their stay beyond three years.
  • The non-issuance of the NORI would ensure that the doctors will have to return to India at the end of the three-year period.
  • The government has included nurses in the Emigration Check Required (ECR) category.
  • This move was taken to bring about transparency in nursing recruitment and reduce the exploitation of nurses in the destination countries.
  • The government’s policies to check brain drain are restrictive in nature and do not give us a real long-term solution to the problem.

Way forward

  • We require systematic changes that could range from increased investment in health infrastructure, ensuring decent pay to workers and building an overall environment to motivate them to stay in the country.
  • The government should focus on framing policies that promote circular migration and return migration — policies that incentivise healthcare workers to return home after the completion of their training or studies.
  •  It could also work towards framing bilateral agreements that could help shape a policy of “brain-share” between the sending and receiving countries.
  • The 2020 Human Development Report shows that India has five hospital beds per 10,000 people — one of the lowest in the world.
  • Increased investment in healthcare, especially in the public sector, is thus the need of the hour.
  • This would, in turn, increase employment opportunities for health workers.

Consider the question “What are the factors driving the migration of healthcare workers from India? Suggest the measure to stem their migration.”


India needs systematic changes that could range from increased investment in health infrastructure, ensuring decent pay to health workers and building an overall environment that could prove to be beneficial for them and motivate them to stay in the country.

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