The impact of ASEAN economic integration on health worker mobility: a scoping review of the literature

Abstract

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community (AEC) was inaugurated in December 2015 with the primary aim of achieving a strong and prosperous community through accelerating economic integration. The notion of a single market, underpinned by the free flow of trade in services and skilled labour, is integral to the spirit of the AEC. To facilitate the intra-regional mobility of health professionals, Mutual Recognition Arrangements (MRAs) were signed, for nursing in 2006 and for medicine and dentistry in 2009, and now sit within the AEC objectives. This study examines the observed and potential impact of the health-related MRAs on health worker mobility within the region, particularly with regard to qualified doctors and nurses. To explore the available evidence, the authors undertook a narrative literature and document review, consistent with the RAMESES guidelines for qualitative research in international development and policy making in the area of health. Peer-reviewed articles and the grey literature from the period beginning in 2005 were reviewed. We find that the implementation of health-related MRAs has been slow and complex due to a number of barriers and challenges, such as resistance to the inflow of health professionals by the local workforce, shortcomings in the implementing mechanisms and an individual preference among health professionals for seeking better opportunities outside the region. Despite increasing worker mobility generally within ASEAN through formal and informal mechanisms, the MRAs themselves do not appear yet to have facilitated the freer movement of health workers. To strengthen health worker mobility, the full implementation of the health-related MRAs is essential, requiring support from broader trade and immigration policies and a stronger political commitment. Policy makers in ASEAN Member States will need to manage competing national interests in order to harness support for effective implementation.

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