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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 May 12; 334(7601): 972.
PMCID: PMC1867880

BMA tells doctors to take career breaks working in world's poorest countries

British doctors should consider volunteering their time to work abroad to help improve the health of poor people overseas, a new BMA report says.

The report on the health of the world's poor, which was published this week, says that the NHS should actively support health improvements in poor countries.

The United Kingdom, which has recruited many thousands of health workers from poor countries in the past decade without incurring training costs (Observations, doi: 10.1136/bmj.39206.640903.94), has a duty to assist financially poor countries to rebuild their health systems, argues the report, which was partly funded by the Department for International Development.

It claims that 57 countries now have a critical shortage of health workers because of this “brain drain” effect, especially in South and South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

As well as providing financial help, policy makers in the UK should provide other forms of support, such as encouraging UK health workers and management staff to spend time abroad as a part of their career, says the report.

It cites several statistics about the scale of the problem of poor health globally, including:

  • 42% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lack access to a clean water source
  • 820 million people in poor countries remain undernourished, despite global food production having doubled in the last 40 years
  • 1.3 billion people lack access to basic health care.

The BMA's chairman, James Johnson, says in the report: “We share the view that there is a pool of untapped expertise and insight amongst UK health professionals which, if harnessed, could make a huge difference to health in the developing world.”

Although Mr Johnson said that global health was currently enjoying a high profile in the UK, partly because of the recently published government consultation on a UK global health strategy, more could and should be done.

“This publication is a powerful indictment of the state of world health and the inability—or even unwillingness—of those in power to take remedial action,” he says in the report.

Another of the report's recommendations is for the BMA and other organisations to declare their support for fair and ethical trade as a concept, with particular emphasis on the purchase of surgical and medical equipment.

More research should be commissioned to investigate whether and to what extent medical and surgical instruments used in Britain are manufactured under unethical and unsafe conditions, it says, and the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency and individual hospital trusts should develop ethical purchasing guidelines.


Improving Health for the World's Poor: What Can Health Professionals Do? is available at the publications section of

Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group