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Checking brain drain in Nigeria’s health sector

The Nigeria Health Watch’s recent statistics indicate that there are eighty thousand doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and as of June this year, only about thirty-five thousand are practicing in the country.

The rest are practicing overseas with concentrations in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

The figure shows that only thirty-five thousand doctors are overseeing the health needs of over two hundred million Nigerians, which is grossly inadequate.

To buttress this, according to the World Health Organization, WHO, a doctor is recommended to six hundred patients for member countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals targets in health provision. 

Sadly, in Nigeria, it is zero point three doctors to one thousand citizens, which invariably implies to one doctor attending to about six thousand patients.

Reports have also shown that foreign embassies in Nigeria, particularly those of Britain, the United States, and Saudi Arabia receive on a weekly basis twenty to twenty-five verification requests from Nigerian nurses waiting to migrate abroad.

This translates into about one thousand one hundred and ninety-six applications a year.

Leaving for greener pasture

It’s unfortunate that despite the fact that just ten percent of the expected doctors are practicing in Nigeria, a good number of them are still leaving the shore of the country for greener pasture due to several factors, which include poor remuneration, and alleged underfunding of the health sector. 

Just last month, a firm announced a recruitment exercise for Nigerian doctors wishing to practice in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of doctors participated in the exercise held in Lagos and Abuja.

Some Nigerian doctors at Saudi Arabia recruitment centre.

This is not the first time Saudi Arabia will woo Nigerian medical doctors with job offers. A similar exercise was held both in Lagos and Abuja in March 2019.

In 2018, research by Africa Check showed that at least twelve doctors leave Nigeria for the UK every week.

It is worrisome that at this time that the attention of the medical personnel is highly essential due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitates some developed countries to be calling on retired health workers to come back to save the situation, Nigeria is losing its medical doctors and others to overseas and at the same time facing recurring industrial actions by Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors. 

Doctors strike almost yearly

Since the beginning of the fourth Republic in 1999, hardly will a year pass by that the doctors will not go on strike as similar action came into effect last year September during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening the health system already in comatose.

It is time all hands are on deck to salvage the health system of the nation.

First, the government should truly invest in health care while individuals, groups, and private sectors should support the government to change the faces of hospitals that have turned to mere consulting centres. 

When Nigerian hospitals are adequately funded, with state-of-the-art equipment, the medical tourism of Nigerians to developed countries will gradually reduce.

Unfortunately, the decision reached by the African Union in 2001 for countries in the region to earmark fifteen percent of the national budget for health is still a mirage.

The country has been within the meager six percent in the last 18 years except for this year’s budget with seven percent. Undoubtedly, the welfare package of the medical doctors and others deserves a review. 

Therefore, medical and other health practitioners on the other hand should also be fair and see patriotism above material gains as leaving Nigeria after the country has invested in them will be a disservice to their fatherland. 

Writing by Ridwan Fasasi of FRCN Ibadan National Station; editing by Abdullahi Lamino