Pen Point 37

Trade in health services, especially the migration of healthcare professionals (HCPs), is continuously growing.  As such, developing countries such as the Philippines, export healthcare professionals to other countries (mostly developed countries). The liberalization of trade in health services, espoused by the ASEAN Integration, has further promoted this migration of health professionals. Since the “world price” of nurses is higher than the “local price”, the Philippines has a comparative advantage in producing nurses, and gains by producing and exporting more. Obviously, one of the favorable effects of nurse migration is the considerable remittances sent home by theses nurses each year. Unfortunately, these remittances will not be able to offset the loss of skilled nurses due to migration, leaving behind an already disadvantaged health system.

The migration of HCPs has the potential to create an imbalance in supply and demand of health workforce in both the home and destination countries. The mushrooming of nursing schools in the Philippines, however, has relieved concerns on potential domestic shortage of nurses due to exportation. Another negative effect that the Philippines experience is the loss of educational expenditure. When government-subsidized nurses migrate to another country, the PH do not only lose a HCP but also the money invested in their education.


How do we balance competing interests in overseas health professionals’ remittances and the need for qualified health workforce in our weak health system extremely affected by the uneven distribution of health workers? Do we cast our nurses as “global goods” rather than “domestic providers” of health care, implicating them as sources of remittance income rather than for their potential contributions to the local health system?

Does this kind of trade in health care promote the realization of self-interest or social interest? Who really gains and loses from this trade? Do the losses, if any, exceed the gains? Is this kind of trade not only motivated by the desire for revenue, but also by the desire to cope with overproduction and lack of opportunities for nurses in the Philippines?