COVID-19 and Romania’s healthcare brain drain could be ‘perfect storm’

By Kit Gillet

Countries across Eastern Europe have so far escaped the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, but many believe it is only a matter of time before the number of cases, and the number of fatalities, rises drastically in the region.

If and when it does hit, the ability of healthcare systems to withstand the onslaught is very much in question, especially given the experiences of richer, better equipped countries like Spain and Italy. Beyond the availability of health and safety equipment, one worry is the effect of years of brain drain, as doctors and nurses left for better paid jobs in Western Europe.

In countries like Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, as well as Poland, which joined a few years earlier, the effects of free movement on their healthcare systems has been particularly pronounced.

“If we’re talking about Romania, there are some specialties which are specifically hit by the brain drain, and one of the biggest areas is intensive care,” said Vlad Mixich, a Romanian doctor and healthcare analyst, who’s also an independent expert on the board of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.