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Hilary Masuka '09 Researching Zimbabwean Migration

By Lisbeth Redfield
Posted August 21, 2007
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When he started his research this summer, Hilary Masuka '09 (Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe) wanted to study the migration between Zimbabwe and South Africa and the experiences of the thousands of people who have risked their careers to cross the South African border. Masuka quickly recognized this topic as too broad for a summer's work and focused his research on the migration of medical personnel from Zimbabwe to South Africa and the effects this movement has had on the health sector, the society, and the economy of both countries.

Zimbabwe is a country in upheaval, as Masuka wrote in his grant proposal. In the last ten years, the current government led by President Robert Mugabe has seen the economy almost collapsing, with high employment and rampant inflation. Many citizens have "found living in the country unbearable" and migrated, either to Europe or just over the border to South Africa. These migrants, unfortunately, include medical personnel who are already in short supply in most African countries.

Zimbabwe in particular has a great need for doctors – the country is fighting not only the HIV/AIDS crisis but high levels of malaria and tuberculosis. Masuka explained that there were more patients than could be treated even if the doctors did stay, and that the migrations created a loss of morale in those who did stay as well as overwork problems for the remaining medical workers.

Masuka, who approached this topic from a social angle as well as an economic one, concluded that migration out of the country has an effect on more than just the medical personnel; it has an effect on the society as a whole. Poor health care leads to poor health in the labor force, which in turn has negative effects on the society and the economy.

Although most of his time went to understanding and describing the problem of medical migration, Masuka also theorized methods for stemming the emigration. He suggested several possibilities, such as enforcing more strongly the rules and chastisement for the compulsory service of Zimbabwean doctors (most of them are required to work in the country for five years upon completing medical school; Masuka argues that the time should be longer) or promoting the return of migrants though tax incentives. "It's not right if you as a doctor are leaving people just to get a better wage," he emphasized.

The rising junior enjoyed his first summer of research and the fact that it allowed him the freedom to choose a topic about which he felt strongly, explaining that "interesting ideas come from a country where there are interesting things." He hopes to spend next summer conducting further research in Zimbabwe – "working with migration on a hands-on basis" by performing interviews and visiting hospitals.

During the year Masuka is a member of the varsity soccer team and the West African Association. He will spend next year in France on a Hamilton study abroad program. In the future, Masuka, a math major, hopes to pursue a career in actuarial work and may return to his home in Zimbabwe after graduation.

Masuka's research this summer is funded by the Levitt Research Fellows Program, operated through the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center. The students spend the summer working intensively in collaboration with a faculty member on an issue related to public affairs; he collaborated with Professor of Government Stephen Orvis.

-- by Lisbeth Redfield

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