Ongolo Proud African

Underpaid African nurses seek greener pastures abroad

13 October 2021

In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with the Burdett Trust for Nursing and the International Council of Nurses (ICN), calculated that 5·9 million more nurses are needed to meet global demand. Almost 90% of that shortage affects low and middle-income countries in Africa and South-East Asia, where greater incidences of infectious diseases and a lack of basic amenities such as water and sanitation, only exacerbate the problem. The problem is further compounded in Africa by the fact that inadequate funding to the healthcare sector leaves some medical personnel unemployed or underemployed.

Contrary to popular belief, nurses are dynamic professionals who are skilled at gauging and responding to patient needs, perhaps even better than doctors. However, despite the high job satisfaction and huge impact on patient care, salaries for nurses remain low across Africa, leaving many feeling disenfranchised. As per statistics released by Public Service Co-Coordinating Bargaining Council of South Africa in 2019, local nurses can earn up to $21,536 annually. That was well below the global average of $26,698. Similarly, the average salary for nurses in Egypt is E£148,202, approximately $9,432.69. Most countries pay even less.

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Nurses are at the heart of patient care but are not as appreciated as doctors

The low salaries at home and high demand for their skills abroad, make nurses one of the most mobile professions globally. The UK continues to be one of the biggest recipients of African nurses, with over 70k work permits issued between 2000 and 2009 alone. In fact, foreigners make up 14% of the UK National Health Services (NHS) staff. In September 2021, the Kenyan and UK governments signed an agreement to allow qualified, unemployed Kenyan nurses to work for the NHS starting in October 2021 and over 3k have thus far expressed an interest. Even though the UK attracts most African nurses, it is not among the highest paying.

The top 5 best paying countries for nurses are:

#1 Luxembourg

The European hub for tax and finance professionals, this tiny country which measures just 2,500km2, is also an attractive destination for nurses, with an average salary of $91,000 a year ($44.3 per hour). Even junior nurses in Luxembourg start off at around $62,000 annually. Bonuses can go up to $1,500 and the work week is capped at 40 hours per nurse, with premiums for overtime. All one needs is a diploma from a recognized institution, one year of clinical experience and proficiency in one of the three administrative languages of the country: German, French or Luxembourgish. Therefore, Luxembourg is an attractive option for nurses from Francophone Africa.

#2 United States of America

The United States boasts of some of the best medical minds of the world and pays them accordingly. The average salary of nurses in the US was recorded at $74,250 in 2020, with the states of Minnesota and Nevada offering the highest pay outs of $93,000 a year. Nurses working under the Federal Government enjoy even greater remuneration. Minnesota has the second highest concentration of African migrants in the US after Washington, DC.

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African nurses are the most mobile professions with their skills in demand across the world.

#3 Switzerland 

Registered nurses in Switzerland can fetch up to $6,000 a month, with a few years of experience under their belt. The sole requirement is that applicants must speak Italian, French, or German fluently. Having said that, the cost of living in Switzerland is notoriously high – a fact not always reflected by skilled immigrant salary packages. 

#4 Canada

With sound financial benefits and nearly 1.2 million people of African descent currently residing within its borders, Canada has become one of the main destinations for African. It recognizes a variety of titles, namely registered nurses, psychiatric nurses, community health nurses and occupation health nurses, and offers average salaries of over $60,000 or $30.3 per hour. A point to note: anyone opting to work in a remote location is guaranteed a greater package in return, along with ‘northern allowances’ of up to $26,000 and monthly retention bonuses.

#5 Australia

Nurses who are looking to settle in Australia can expect to earn about $56,000 a year, with many bustling metropolises such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth, to choose from. The salary paid usually grows at a rate of 5% a year until one has eight years of experience. After that, the only way to grow is to specialize further or seek promotion to a more senior role.

While it is good for individual nurses that migration is an option, Africa will be the net loser. What governments should be doing is making adequate investments into strengthening the public health sector by educating, recruiting and retaining its nursing staff. And it must do it this NOW!



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