The exodus of doctors and nurses seeking better pay has caused a crisis in low-income nations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where HIV/AIDS has put an added burden on already limited resources.
Market conditions and ageing populations are partly responsible but Dr Barbara McPake, a health economist at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh, Scotland said government policies in wealthy countries are also to blame.
''There is a lot of policy control over the situation,'' she told Reuters. ''Governments should not get away with shrugging their shoulders and saying 'global forces, nothing to do with us.'' ''It isn't just global market forces.'' International medical graduates make up about 25 percent of doctors in wealthy countries and between 40-75 percent of those physicians come from lower income countries.
McPake and Dr Bob Pond, of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, analysed the impact of government policies on the healthcare labour markets in Britain, the United States, France and Germany.
WHO figures show Britain is the least staffed of high-income countries and benefits more than other rich nations from the influx of nurses and doctors from poor countries.
''In the UK, increasing nurse pay would seem to make the single largest contribution to resolving the labour market imbalance that is draining poor countries of their health staff,'' McPake said in a report published online by The Lancet medical journal.
More than 40 per cent of the 34,627 nurses who joined the British register in 2003-2004 were from overseas.
The researchers argue that better salaries would entice more people in Britain to become nurses and those who have left the profession to return.
In the United States, the researchers said, it is essential that the number of students graduating from medical and nursing schools is sufficient to meet the country's needs.
The problem is less acute in Germany and France which have not benefited as much from an influx of foreign health workers.
Germany has attracted doctors and nurses from ex-Soviet and eastern European countries, which are better staffed than African nations, and France has had restrictions on the numbers of foreign-educated doctors that could work in the country.
''Policies should seek to ensure local stability in health labour markets so that shortages of staff are not solved via the international brain drain,'' McPake added.
REUTERS VJ RAI0553