Reuters - Cameroon coulld lose all of its 3,000 practising doctors within three years if the Government does not act quickly to stem a brain drain in the health sector, the national doctors' association says.
"Between now and 2009, if nothing is done to stop this mass exodus, our hospitals will be empty," Professor Tetanye Okie, vice president of the ONMC association of doctors, said.
"The Government may be forced to undertake a massive recruitment of young doctors."
The West African country officially has about 3,000 practising clinicians for its 17 million people.
But Professor Okie says because they are clustered in towns and cities, rural areas are often left with one doctor for 40,000 inhabitants.
Countries across the developing world are battling skill shortages as qualified doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers are lured by better pay and working conditions in the West.
Cameroon's Government says it cannot afford to pay doctors more but agrees the brain drain is reaching crisis proportions.
"The situation regarding human resources in the health sector is critical," Public Health Minister Urbain Olanguena Awono said.
"Despite efforts to develop human resources, the men in white coats still take their talent to rich countries."
More than 5,000 Cameroonian doctors are working abroad with up to 600 in the United States alone.
Professor Doh Anderson Sama, a gynaecologist in Yaounde, returned to Cameroon after completing his studies in Britain but says he has received several invitations to return there.
"If I were working there I would be earning about 10 times what I am earning here today," he said.
One doctor who asked not to be named complained that illiterate soldiers earned more money than doctors.
Professor Okie says the Government must make health a priority by raising wages.
"The Government has to make a choice. And since no country can do without its health service, particularly medical doctors, for me the choice is very obvious," he said.
Reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation