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Fixing the health sector to avoid further brain drains

Issues are crystal clear, fix it

The relocation of Nigerian medical doctors to other countries on a yearly basis is worrisome and must not be taken with levity. In search for greener pastures and an environment that works, Nigeria is gradually losing “assets” that should serve as a line of defence when the need arises.

The health sector of any country is very fundamental to its economy. The current COVID-19 pandemic has proven to all that even stronger healthcare systems in advanced economies can be overwhelmed not to mention weaker ones in developing economies like Nigeria.

In line with the thoughts of the World Health Organisation (WHO), better health is central to human happiness and well-being. It also makes an important contribution to economic progress, as healthy populations live longer, are more productive, and save more. Studies have proven that there is a strong correlation between improved health and economic growth.

Hence, how do we talk of improved health for Nigerians when their doctors aren’t satisfied with conditions in the Nigerian health sector? How do we talk of economic growth in Nigeria when its healthcare system is fast deteriorating? The brain drains in the Nigeria health sector – as well as other sectors – spells an impending doom for a country whose health sector is dilapidated and should be reinventing ways to change the narrative.

According to the United Kingdom’s (UK) General Medical Council (GMC), no fewer than 7,875 Nigerian doctors are currently practising in the UK. The GMC’s statistics shows that Nigeria is the African country with the highest number of doctors in the UK.

Currently, there are 74,543 doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. With 7,875, it means 10.5 percent of doctors registered to practise in Nigeria are currently practising in the UK. This is excluding those practising in other countries of the world.

Also, Nigerian immigration to Canada has tripled in recent years, and is poised for further increases post coronavirus. In 2019, Nigeria became the fourth-leading source country of new immigrants to Canada in pursuit of economic opportunity. This means lots of potential medical students, doctors and professionals have relocated and will relocate.

To those immigrants, it is just the best decision, however, very detrimental to Nigeria and only time will tell how grave the consequences are.

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) says it all. According to the NMA, “This is the second peak of doctors’ mass exodus from the country.  In the 1990s, doctors left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia and they are leaving again. They are not receiving the satisfaction they deserve. The work environment is not encouraging, the equipment for practice is inadequate.  The salary is meagre. They go to where their service is appreciated.

“The issue of insecurity is also there; many doctors have been kidnapped. We don’t know maybe the kidnappers are targeting them or it is just a coincidence. What we think should be done holistically is for the government to conduct a research and find out why the doctors are leaving.”

Statistics from the WHO shows that Nigeria currently has a shortage of medical doctors with a physician-to-patient ratio of 4 doctors to 10,000 patients. This ratio may decline further if the federal government does not attend to the challenges in the health sector. Nigerians are dying everyday from chronic health conditions. We need more doctors not less.

Meanwhile, despite being at the frontline of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria doctors have had reasons to go on strike over welfare and inadequate protective equipment amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Also, the 2019 and 2020 budget had healthcare sector budgets account for just 4.2 percent of total budget, a proportion below the 15 percent commitment made at the WHO’s 2001 Abuja declaration. This has left public healthcare infrastructure decrepit.

The FG must not be silent over this and must take necessary actions. We think the issues are crystal clear and only wish the government will be proactive or risk a total collapse of the health sector if another crisis hits. Crises are sometimes inevitable but the degree of damage is dependent on a nation’s preparedness.

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