Delusional solutions to our healthcare puzzles

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, and his Labour counterpart, Chris Ngige, himself  a medical doctor, have at different times proffered different solutions to the phenomenon of brain drain dogging the Nigerian health sector. 

While Dr. Ehanire is of the belief that the government would employ our doctors working in foreign lands to fill in the gap, Dr. Ngige even shocked the entire nation when, sometime ago, he came up with his own remedy: engage local medicine men to bridge the gap. How could a man trained in modern medicine come up with such a crude solution to our healthcare challenges in a 21st Century Nigeria?

Dr. Ehanire, speaking in Abuja on Tuesday at the 17th edition of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration’s Scorecard Series (2015-2023), lamented that experienced doctors were leaving the country on the grounds that they were not properly rewarded for the work they were doing. He hit the bull’s eye.

The minister said the federal government was trying to address the issue by improving the conditions of service for medical personnel, noting, however, that there was high mobility of health workers globally and Nigeria should not be seen as the only country affected.

He said, “I was at a meeting where the Minister of Health of Gambia was complaining too that the doctors they have, some of them have left. I also spoke with authorities in the United Kingdom who also complained that their doctors are going to Canada and New Zealand where their pay is better. 

“So, they require lots of people because there is a high need in those countries. So, mobility is global and not that we are doing something wrong but market forces working globally. The situation is the same in Turkey and Egypt. 

“What we are also doing is to do what they call the conversion of brain drain to brain gain. We are doing that with a new mechanism that is being set up now to engage Nigerian doctors and nurses in the Diaspora and connect them with universities and hospitals because modern technology makes it possible for somebody to be delivering lectures in New York and we have people here listening to it. So, we can have those who are ready to transfer knowledge to do so. 

“Also, those who have to do surgery or see a patient can book periods during which they will come. So, they can be affiliated with a particular teaching hospital and come in with cutting-edge knowledge and skills to come here and pass this knowledge on.”  

Brilliant as the minister’s postulation is, it would be an uphill task for the government to persuade the Nigerian medical personnel who abandoned their fatherland because of harsh working environment to return home to bridge the gap created by them in the first place. Neither can the nation provide the state-of-the-art equipment the dearth of which is also one of the reasons they had to flee the country.

It is public knowledge that the shortage of medical personnel in the country has degenerated to one doctor to 2,500 Nigerians. The ratio is a far cry from the one doctor to 600 patients’ recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Going by the current population of Nigeria put at 200m, over 300,000 doctors would be required to meet the WHO’s recommendation. This means that Nigeria must produce at least 10,000 doctors annually for the next 10 years to join the existing workforce bedeviled by constant exodus. However, findings have shown that Nigeria produces about 3,000 medical doctors annually across the medical colleges that have been given accreditation. 

According to the statistics made available by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), about 72,000 doctors are registered with the council but more than 30,000 have fled the shores of the land in search of greener pastures, leaving only 40,000 to cater for the health needs of the 200m people.

Many factors are responsible for the frightening state of affairs. Notable among them are hostile environment, poor remunerations, lack of medical facilities or antiquated ones where they are available, sporadic trade disputes, rivalry among various cadres of healthcare givers, heavy workload due to shortage of personnel and attraction to work overseas offered by good working conditions.  

The poor state of our healthcare centres and lack of state-of-the-art facilities constitute a nightmare to patients and medical personnel alike. It is this sorry state of affairs that has been responsible for the exodus of our best brains to foreign lands where many of them are making waves. Presently, rich Nigerians spend more than N8bn annually on medical tourism. Ironically, the same Nigerian doctors abroad are in some cases the ones attending to them.
Government at all levels should wake up from its slumber and stem the tide of exodus of our doctors and other health personnel in the midst of shortage rather than being delusional about getting those who have already fled to return home.  

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