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UPDATE 1-Caribbean growth hurt by nursing shortage - report

(Adds comment from report author)

WASHINGTON, March 2 (Reuters) - A chronic shortage of nurses in English-speaking Caribbean nations is limiting the quality of healthcare and may be hindering development in the region, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

The loss of nurses emigrating to the United States, Canada and Britain for higher paying jobs is a major factor in the nursing drain on the region, the bank said.

However, a growing demand for the healthcare needs of an aging population also contributes to the shortage, the bank said in the report, available at www.worldbank.org/lac.

According to World Bank estimates, 7,800 nurses are working in English-speaking Caribbean countries, or 1.25 nurses per 1,000 people. That is about one-tenth the concentration of nurses in some major advanced economies.

Between 2002 and 2006, more than 1,800 nurses left the region to work abroad, the bank said in its report.

“People do not leave only for higher salaries abroad but for work conditions, career ... opportunities and that is the problem. These push factors are very hard to fix,” lead author Christoph Kurowski said in a telephone interview.

“This is a long-term investments to those health systems,” he said.

Given that so many nurses leave, governments should consider how they leverage the emigres to strengthen local health systems, Kurowski said.

The report cites data that show 21,500 nurses trained in English-speaking Caribbean nations are working in Canada, Britain and the United States -- three times as many as are working in their home countries.

The World Bank said the shortages hurt the countries’ abilities to prevent disease and care for the sick.

The shortage of highly trained nurses can also impede economic growth because businesses and retirees will stay away from the region if quality health care is not available, the bank said.

The English-speaking Caribbean countries included in the report are Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The World Bank recommends that the countries join forces on a regional approach for training more nurses, retaining them and developing incentives to entice emigres to return.

Destination countries are experiencing their own nurse shortages. In the United States alone a shortage of 800,000 is expected for the year 2020, the World Bank said. (Editing by Anthony Boadle and Cynthia Osterman)

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