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The perception of the brain drain as a transaction in which the recipient country gains and the donor loses is incomplete, says this Nature editorial.

A study presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Francisco last month (15–19 February) showed that countries exporting the highest proportions of healthcare professionals had the best healthcare systems.

This could be because these countries are more in touch with global trends, and more likely to attract high quality trainees in the first place.

The study found the worst public healthcare systems in French-speaking West Africa, where staff are less likely to emigrate. This was attributed to strict immigration control in France, the primary destination for such workers.

In addition, about half of today's emigrants return home later in their careers and most send large amounts of money back home.

So the old model of immigrant 'donor' countries losing out is obsolete. But, the editorial concedes, the degree to which these benefits counteract the initial loss is open to question.

Link to full article in Nature