But Mr Catton of the International Nurses Organization said that’s not the current pattern. “For recruited nurses there is no intention to return, often on the contrary: they want to settle in another country and bring their families over,” he said.
Zambia has a surplus of nurses on paper – thousands of nursing school graduates are out of work despite a new government pledge to hire 11,200 health workers this year. But it’s experienced nurses like Lillian Mwape, the director of nursing at the hospital where Mr Mulumba works, who are most sought after by recruiters.
“People are leaving all the time,” said Ms. Mwape, whose inbox is flooded with emails from recruiters telling her how quickly she can get a visa to the United States.
The net effect, she said, “is that we’re disabled.”
“These are the most qualified nurses we are losing and you cannot replace them,” Ms. Mwape said. “Now we have maybe four or five critical care registered nurses in intensive care where we should have 20. The rest are general nurses and they cannot handle the burden of Covid.”
dr Brian Sampa, a general practitioner in Lusaka, has recently started the language test, which is the first step in immigrating to the UK. He chairs a doctors’ union and knows exactly how valuable doctors are in Zambia. There are fewer than 2,000 doctors working in the public sector – which the vast majority of people depend on – and 5,000 doctors across the country, he said. That works out to one doctor for every 12,000 inhabitants; WHO recommends at least one in 1,000.
Twenty Zambian doctors have died from Covid. in dr Sampa’s last job was as the only doctor in a district of 80,000 people, and he often spent nearly 24 hours at a time in the operating room performing emergency surgeries, he said.
The pandemic has made him disheartened about Zambia’s healthcare system. He described days treating critically ill Covid patients as he searched an entire hospital to find just a single C-clamp needed to run oxygen machines. He earns a little less than $1000 a month.