Foreign recruitment of Nigerian doctors may not be last time

Last week Thursday, a recruitment exercise organised by the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia which saw a huge turnout of consultants, senior medical officers, and others who were eager to practise medicine outside Nigeria, was suspended allegedly by security operatives acting on the orders of an embarrassed government.

While the Department of State Security Services (DSS) has since denied being involved in the operation and claimed reports of its alleged involvement was meant to embarrass the agency, indeed it does look like an overkill to stomp the grounds of a recruitment exercise on the flimsy excuse that it embarrassed the government.

The fact is, this is not the first time, nor the second or third time such exercise has been held by foreign recruiters in Nigeria. In fact, the Saudi Arabian government has used the same venue; Ladi Kwali Hall of Sheraton Abuja, and a popular hotel in Ikeja GRA for a similar exercise in 2019.

Read Also: Saudi Arabia headhunts Nigerian doctors in brain drain deja vu

We don’t believe it would be the last time as the country continues to not prioritise the welfare of its health care workers and renege on agreements made with labour unions.

Health workers under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) have been on strike since August 2, 2021 over the inability of the Nigerian government to implement the agreements it entered with the union 113 days after it suspended the previous strike. The union also cited poor working environment in public hospitals, irregular payment of doctors’ salaries, and hazard allowances of N5000 which was reviewed last in 1991.

The government does not need a crystal ball to decipher why over 300 Nigerian doctors would show up at a recruitment exercise organised by the Saudi Arabian government

The average resident doctor in Nigeria earns between N110,000 and N113,450 in a month in most public hospitals in Nigeria. Even at that, the salaries do not come regularly. Many doctors in many states across the country are owed many months of salaries. This has accelerated the spate of strike incidences. Between 2017 and now, doctors have embarked on numerous strike actions usually for issues that are taken for granted overseas but need to be fought for in Nigeria: salaries, upgrade of health facilities, and general welfare.

The failure of the government to seriously nip these issues in the bud is responsible for the mass exodus of Nigerian health workers to countries where they won’t have to pass through the eye of the needle to get their jobs done. In one report, the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom said no fewer than 4,528 Nigerian trained doctors registered with the council in order to be able to practice there. The number of Nigerian trained doctors in the UK rose from an average of 1.3 per day between July and December 2020 to 3.3 per day in April and May 2021. Currently, Nigeria is ranked third in the number of foreign doctors practising in the UK. The other two countries are India and Pakistan.

When it comes to seeking a conducive working environment, Nigerian doctors appear to have no country of preference. There are about 344 Nigerian doctors registered with the medical board of Trinidad and Tobago, 235 of these doctors were trained in Nigerian universities.

The increasing migration of Nigerian doctors to countries that care about their welfare and provide the best environment for work constitutes not just a brain drain and loss of critical economic assets, it is also a potential health emergency for the entire population of 200 million Nigerians. Nigeria has 74,543 registered doctors which puts the doctor-patient ratio in the country at 1:3,500 (one doctor to 3,500 Nigerians). This is more than half below the recommended 1:600 recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The government does not need a crystal ball to decipher why over 300 Nigerian doctors would show up at a recruitment exercise organised by the Saudi Arabian government. It only needs to look itself in the mirror, the same wrought in the system that does not give the President of the country the confidence to use Nigerian hospitals or seek the services of Nigerian doctors is the same one these workers are running away from. Only recently, Nigeria’s President returned from one of many medical tourists bringing the total number of days spent in London on official medical trips on taxpayers’ bills to about 200.

The way out is a simple and narrow way; set a timeline for fixing the rot in the healthcare system, declare a medical emergency that freezes all forms of medical tourism for every public official starting from the President, bring all stakeholders to the table, and do not leave the room until everyone has sincerely committed to fixing their fair share of the damage within the system.

We also believe nothing will be served with fresh negotiations with the workers’ union or threatening a ‘no-work no-pay’ punishment which would only result in more doctors fleeing to other countries and our public hospitals losing patients because of loss of man-power. In essence, foreign recruitment would continue for the foreseeable future should the government fail to hold and show itself responsible for the ailing health care system. The clock is ticking.

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