Opinions: Africa Food Aid; International Violence Against Women Act; Brain Drain

Food Aid Won’t End African Problems

While the drought and starvation in the Horn of Africa are “ghastly to be sure,” when “you see children on TV with distended bellies keening over their dying parents … do them a favour. Sit on your hands,” Sam Kiley, a former Africa bureau chief with the London Times, writes in a newspaper opinion piece. “African aid organisations have been in the grip of an hysterical number inflation game since the hideous images of the Ethiopian famine were brought to our screens 25 years ago … Aid organisations and the media have inflated the scale of subsequent horror, regardless of the truth,” Kiley writes.

“We use statistics to highlight the horrors in Africa to drive home the unbelievable scale of the continent’s problems. But that’s the problem: the scale has become unbelievable. Twenty-three million? From my experience of two decades’ reporting from Africa, I can say with absolute confidence that this is humbug. Did anyone count them? No.” To illustrate his point, he highlights a recent Oxfam report. Kiley says that people should donate “to charities that ring-fence funding for education. If they don’t do it, don’t give. Mark all cheques ‘not for food’ if you have to.” He concludes, “With education Africans can and will rid themselves of the incompetent and corrupt leaders that we have kept in power through foreign aid for decades. Educated Africans will bring an end to a dangerous cycle of humbug” (10/23). 

U.S. Funds Should Be Used To Combat Global Violence Against Women

After a House committee last week heard testimony on the International Violence Against Women Act “that would spend a billion dollars over five years to assist women in developing nations,” Bonnie Erbe, a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report, examines the use of U.S. tax dollars for the protection of women from violence worldwide in an opinion piece


“I’m normally a fiscal hawk and $1 billion (even over five years) is still a huge chunk of change to me,” Erbe writes. “But overseas aid comes back to the United States in ways most Americans do not understand – jobs and business. This goes above and beyond the humanitarian reasons for supporting victimized women.” Erbe concludes, “[I]f we spend money today to protect female victims of violence, this will be remembered by these women and their families. And the reward will come back to us many times over in terms of increasing our share of global trade” (Erbe, 10/23).

‘Brain Drain’ Benefits Developed, Developing Nations

“Many of the same countries courted by the United States through aid and trade deals complain bitterly of the ‘brain drain’ of their doctors, scientists, and engineers to the United States and other rich countries,” Michael Clemens, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, and David McKenzie, a senior economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, write in a Foreign Policy opinion piece. However, they assert that “the flow of skilled emigrants from poor to rich parties can actually benefit both parties.”

Clemens and McKenzie address several assumptions about “brain drain,” including the idea that “emigration of doctors kills people in Africa.” They write that the “level of medical care provided by doctors in Africa depends on a vast array of factors … such as scant wages in the public health service, poor or absent rural service incentives, few other performance incentives of any kind, a lack of adequate medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, a mismatch between medical training and the health problems of the poorest, weak transportation infrastructure, or abysmal sanitation systems.” They also state that “African countries with the largest number of their physicians residing abroad in the rich country are typically those with the lowest child mortality, and vice versa.”

New research shows “that the international movement of educated people changes the incentives to acquire education, sends enormous quantities of money across borders, leads to movements back and forth, and can contribute to the spread of trade, investment, technology, and ideas,” the authors write. They conclude, “All of this fits very uncomfortably in a rhyming phrase like ‘brain drain,’ a caricature that would be best discarded in favor of a richer view of the links between human movement and development” (10/22).

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

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