In the first week of January this year, Bangladesh Overseas Employment and Services Limited posted vacancies for nurses and medical technologists in oil-rich Kuwait, with nearly 1 lakh of monthly wages, increases , accommodation and travel costs to be paid by employers.

The announcement belies the current state of understaffed public hospitals struggling to cope with the scramble for Covid patients and nearly half a dozen protests from medical technologists seeking nationalization of jobs in 2021 , which just ended.

In a major shift from exporter of unskilled labor to a healthcare provider country, Bangladesh now plans to send healthcare professionals to at least six countries: Kuwait, Maldives, Emirates United Arabs, Qatar, Germany and Japan. According to authorities, countries have already shown interest in hiring doctors, nurses, hygienists, caregivers and dental technicians thanks to the shortage of healthcare workers due to Covid across the world.

“They have shown interest and we are very keen to capitalize on the new demand,” Md Hamidul Hoque, co-secretary (nurses and midwives) at the Ministry of Health, told The Business Standard.

According to Bangladesh Overseas Employment and Services Limited, Kuwait will recruit 735 nurses and technicians in six categories for its various public hospitals during the first phase. In addition, the Maldives recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh to recruit doctors and nurses.

In addition, authorities say there are two other potential markets – the UK and Greece – for the export of healthcare professionals. The manpower office and the nursing directorate have teamed up to oversee recruitments.

Hamidul Hoque said some nurses, who got their jobs on their own, are already working overseas. But the government has taken initiatives for the first time to export health professionals.

However, government officials could not specify how many health workers Bangladesh would send overseas, or when they would be sent.

Md Shahidul Alam, director general of the manpower office, said countries had not yet mentioned their request and that talks were underway in this regard.

“Our goal is to get started quickly so that nursing students who graduate this year qualify for jobs overseas. We will even recruit fourth-year nursing students who want to go overseas,” he noted.

According to the Bangladesh Nursing and Midwifery Council, there are 271 BSc and 547 nursing and midwifery institute degrees (public and private) in the country with over 39,000 places. About 15,000 nurses enter the workforce each year.

As of December of last year, there were 80,739 nurses, while around 55,000 of them worked in public health facilities. Others are employed in private hospitals and clinics.

To cope with the wave of Covid, the government recruited nearly 6,000 nurses last year. However, Shahidul Alam said there will be enough nurses graduating from colleges in 2022 to meet foreign demand.

In addition, the Registrar of the Council of Nurses and Midwives, Shuriya Begum, said the colleges will increase their capacity, doubling the annual number of graduates to 30,000.

In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the global nursing workforce was 2.79 crore and estimated there was a global nursing deficit of 59 lakh.

With the aging nursing workforce, 17% of the world’s nurses are expected to retire within the next ten years, and 47 million more nurses will need to be trained and employed just to maintain the current workforce, without talk about shortages.

In total, more than one crore of additional nurses will be needed by 2030. India and the Philippines are the top source countries for high-income destinations, according to a report. Some 2.4 Filipino lakhs and 90,000 Indians are now working in the countries.

Quality matters

While the interest of foreign recruiters has not yet fully matured in determining whether the skills of Bangladeshi doctors and nurses meet requirements, authorities say recruiters’ willingness is evident enough that the potential workforce have the required skills and standards.

However, officials say there is no alternative but to learn more skills to unlock bigger markets like the UK.

Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, secretary at the Department for Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, said the UK needs a lot of nurses.

“Although the country has not indicated it, we want to conquer the market. For this we need to prepare by producing a quality workforce that meets the global standard,” he told The Business Standard.

Md Zakir Hossain, first secretary of the Bangladeshi Embassy in Tokyo, told TBS they are working to send trained Bangladeshi caregivers to Japan.

He said the island nation will recruit a total of 45,000-60,000 skilled workers from different countries and will also come to Bangladesh to select the workers.

Md Sohel Parvez, first secretary of the Bangladeshi embassy in Male, told TBS that around 200 Bangladeshi doctors are currently working in the Maldives in public and private hospitals. The Maldives are building three new hospitals which will need more health professionals.

“As part of the memorandum of understanding between Dhaka and Malé, we will send more doctors to the Maldives – obviously with better salaries than at home,” he added.

Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad told The Business Standard that their technical training centers currently have no arrangements for health workers. But major changes will soon be made to the programs to support the export of medical personnel.

According to the manpower office, nearly 74% of Bangladeshi workers exported last year were unskilled.

The average monthly remittance sent by a Bangladeshi expatriate is around $ 203, compared to $ 564 for a Filipino worker, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The average monthly income of a Pakistani expatriate is around $ 275, while it is $ 395 for an Indian and $ 532 for a Chinese citizen.

Authorities confident about export, ignoring country’s shortage

According to the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), three nurses must be recruited against a doctor.

According to the health directorate, there are 102,997 registered doctors in Bangladesh, which suggests that the number of nurses is over 3 lakh. This means that the country has only 27% of the nurses it needs.

Council of Nurses and Midwives Clerk Shuriya Begum said, “If some of our graduates go overseas, it will not affect our local demand. If they get better pay in foreign hospitals, why don’t they fly? “

A nurse begins a career with a monthly salary of Tk 30,000 in a public hospital, while Kuwait offers Tk 73,000 to 90,000 for nurses and technicians with three to four years of experience.

Ismat Ara, president of the Bangladesh Nurses Association, said private hospitals do not have specific salaries for nurses. The amount varies from 20,000 Tk to 1 lakh Tk depending on the medical establishment.