Worrisome exodus of Nigerian doctors

During the week, the President of Nigeria Medical Association, (NMA), Dr. Ojinmah Uche, must have ruffled feathers once again in the healthcare circle with the frightening revelation that Nigeria is down to 24,000 doctors to cater for its over 200m population.

The NMA boss was speaking during a policy dialogue on Nigeria’s health sector brain-drain and its implication for sustainable child and family health service delivery, organised by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), Kuru, in collaboration with the Partnership for Advancing Child and Family Health at Scale project of the development Research and Project Centre (dRPC).

He lamented that only “one doctor is incredibly available to treat 30,000 patients in most states in the South, while the situation in the North is more pathetic with one doctor to 45,000 patients.”

He blamed the exodus on poor funding of the health sector, non-existent house job slots, difficulty in gaining employment, poor remuneration, unnecessary and unhealthy inter-professional rivalry, insecurity, among other factors.

In his remarks, the Director-General of the NIPSS, Ayo Omotayo, said Nigeria currently had the third highest number foreign medical practitioners working in the United Kingdom after India and Pakistan.

In his address, the Health Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, represented by Sydney Ibeamusi, Director of Trauma, Emergency and Disaster Response, noted that emigration of trained and highly skilled workforce was of great concern because it put further strain on the already challenged health system.

It is public knowledge that our medical sectors have been the hunting ground for foreign recruitment teams in recent years. As recently as March, 2019, a recruitment team from Saudi Arabia came to Nigeria on medical “poaching”. Reacting to the incessant hiring of our doctors, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, himself a medical practitioner, Dr. Chris Ngige, dismissed the fears expressed by Nigerians over the developments. He boasted that Nigeria had enough medical personnel to spare. Many were even shocked by his claim that that we had surplus native doctors that could fill the vacuum and meet the nation’s demand for healthcare services. How ridiculous!

The Nigeria’s situation has remained very pathetic. To meet the WHO’s recommendation of ratio one doctor to 600 patients, about 300,000 doctors would be required. This means that Nigeria must produce at least 10,000 doctors annually for the next 10 years. However, findings have shown that Nigeria produces about 3,000 medical doctors annually across the medical colleges that have been given accreditations, baring hiccups associated with strikes and other academic dislocations our institutions are well known for.

The Nigerian medical space is about the most dislocated in the world. Strikes by medical personnel across all the professional unions have become commonplace. Even in midst of national emergencies, Nigerian medical personnel are known to practically shut down healthcare facilities in protest over poor remunerations and professional allowances. It happened during the 2014 Ebola scourge and also at the height of the Covid-19 rampage, leaving their compatriots at the mercy of death. The scenario has always been a mockumentary on Nigerian healthcare sector.

There was a time in the late 60s when a Saudi monarch was referred to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, for medical attention. Those were the halcyon days when Nigerians did not have to jet out to treat common ailments like headache and cough. Asian medical personnel from Pakistan and India were even attracted to work in Nigeria because the facilities and working conditions were excellent. So also were medics form Cuba.

According to a recent survey, 87 per cent of the medical practitioners believed that the federal and state governments were not concerned about addressing the daunting challenges facing doctors and the health sector generally. It gave a breakdown of those desiring to practise in better climes as Britain (93%), the United States (86%), Canada (60%) and Saudi Arabia (59%), among other nations.

But our successive leaders, especially the politicians, are destroyers! By the turn of the 80s, our medical infrastructure had not only begun to decay, the various hospitals had also become mere consulting clinics. The situation is worse now. For, even where the infrastructure is available, there are hardly any doctors to consult because of perennial strike actions. And it is the poor masses that are on the receiving end.

Government as at all levels must rise to stem this ugly tide. A nation that creates an environment leading to dearth of its health personnel is wittingly and unwillingly lowering its guard for all manner of ailments to rush its citizens to their early graves. We should not be happy that developed countries are coming to recruit some of our best brains. Nigerian doctors are some of the best hands across the globe. This is because our medical institutions are doing well to churn out good products. But of what benefit is it to us if we lose them to foreign lands, only for the Nigerian elite to jet out to be treated by these same doctors who have fled the country?

Government should have a serious rethink about the grave situation and redress it without any further delay. A government that fails to provide people basic needs such as good medicare is either irresponsible of irresponsive.

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