Recruitment agencies in rich countries which actively recruit health workers in Africa are guilty of "international crime," a hard-hitting viewpoint published on Saturday in The Lancet says.
By poaching doctors and nurses from south of the Sahara, rich nations are sapping poor countries of vital personnel who have cost a fortune to train, according to the piece.
Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States alone have more than 13,000 doctors who were trained in sub-Saharan Africa.
Many of them were lured abroad through advertisements, recruitment workshops, emails and websites placed by agencies, some of them operating out of South Africa, says the article.
In some African countries, the exodus of health workers to rich economies now exceeds the number of graduates emerging from medical schools, it says.
In Malawi, for instance, there is one physician for every 50,000 people, whereas in Britain, the ratio is 126 doctors per 50,000 members of the population.
One estimate, published in 2004, found that from 1998 to 2002, Ghana had lost around 35 million pounds (46 million euros, 68 million dollars) of its training investment in health professionals who worked in Britain.
Britain, though, had saved 65 million pounds (86 million euros, 127 million dollars) in training costs by recruiting these people during that period.
"Although active recruitment of health personnel in Africa may lack the heinous intent of other crimes covered under international law, the resulting dilapidation of health infrastructure contributes to a measurable and foreseeable public health crisis," says the viewpoint.
"The practice should therefore, be viewed as an international crime."
The piece is lead-authored by Edward Mills of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, Canada.