The emigration of skilled professionals from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to high-income countries (HICs) is a general phenomenon but poses particular challenges in health care, where it contributes to human resource shortages in the health systems of poorer countries. However, little is known about the effects of strategies to help regulate this movement.
To assess the effects of policy interventions to regulate emigration of health professionals from LMICs.
We searched the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Group Specialised Register (searched 15 March 2011), the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (searched 2 March 2011), MEDLINE (searched 5 March 2011), EMBASE (searched 2 March 2011), CINAHL (searched 5 March 2011), LILACS (searched 7 March 2011), WHOLIS (searched 20 March 2011), SocINDEX (searched 11 March 2011), EconLit (searched 8 March 2011), Science and Social Science Citation Index (searched 8 March 2011), NLM Gateway (searched 31 March 2011) and ERIC (searched March 3 2011). We reviewed reference lists of included studies and selected reviews on the topic, contacted authors of included studies and experts on the field, and reviewed relevant websites.
Randomised controlled trials (RCT), non-randomised controlled trials (NRCT), controlled before-and-after studies (CBA) and interrupted time series (ITS) studies assessing any intervention in the source, the recipient or both countries that could have an impact on the number of professionals that emigrate from a LMIC. Health professionals, such as physicians, dentists, nurses or midwives, should be nationals of a LMIC whose graduate training was in a LMIC.
Data collection and analysis
One review author extracted data onto a standard form and a second review author checked data. Two review authors assessed risk of bias.
Only one study was included. This time series study assessed the migration of Philippine nurses to the United States of America (USA) from 1954 to 1990. We re-analysed it as an interrupted time series study. The intervention was a modification of migratory law in the US, called the 'Act of October 1965', which decreased the restrictions on Eastern hemisphere immigrants to the USA. The analysis showed a significant immediate increase of 807.6 (95% confidence interval (CI) 480.9 to 1134.3) in the number of nurses migrating to the USA annually after the intervention. This represents a relative increase of 5000% over the underlying pre-intervention trend. There were no significant differences in the slopes of the underlying trends for the number of nurses migrating between the pre- and postintervention periods.
There is an important gap in knowledge about the effectiveness of policy interventions in either HICs or LMICs that could regulate positively the movement of health professionals from LMICs. The only evidence found was from an intervention in a HIC that increased the movement of health professionals from a LMIC.
New initiatives to improve records on the migration of health professionals from LMICs should be implemented, as a prerequisite to conducting more rigorous research in the field. This research should focus on whether the range of interventions outlined in the literature could be effective in retaining health professionals in LMICs. Such interventions include financial rewards, career development and continuing education, improving hospital infrastructure, resource availability, better hospital management and improved recognition of health professionals.