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Nigeria’s Marie Antoinettes

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In 2017, the World Health Organisation’s analysis of health systems ranked Nigeria 187 out of 191, ahead only of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Myanmar. Its verdict was damning: “Nigeria lacks a serious approach to healthcare.”

The WHO also put maternal mortality rate in Nigeria as 814, per 100,000 live births only outperforming Chad with 856, Central African Republic; 882, and Sierra Leone; 1360. War torn countries like Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo even outperformed Nigeria.

Also, while Botswana and Mauritius have the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel as 100 percent, Nigeria is again down the pyramid with 35 percent, competing with countries like Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Chad.

The statistics get worse, for every 1000 births in Nigeria, 108 infants (and children) die before the age of five, and again, the country sits comfortably close to the bottom of the ladder in Africa.

Data from WHO world health statistics 2017 further shows that over 72 million Nigerians are at risk of malaria, with 380.8 at risk out of every 1000 Nigerians, whereas, malaria has ceased to be a health concern for many other countries. Yet, Africa’s largest economy shares the three bottom slots on the continent with Burkina Faso and Mali.

The figures for cancer are even more mind-boggling. Nigeria has a cancer death ration of 4 in 5, one of the worst in the world. According to the WHO, over 100, 000 people are diagnosed with cancer annually in Nigeria, and about 80, 000 die from the disease, amounting to 240 daily. Furthermore, cervical cancer, which is virtually 100 percent preventable, kills one Nigerian woman every hour while breast cancer kills 40 Nigerian women daily.

What is more, due to the terrible working conditions, Nigerian doctors have been deserting the country in droves in search for better working conditions in other countries. According to the Nigerian Medical Association, more than 40, 000 out of the 75,000 registered Nigerian doctors were practicing abroad while over 70 percent of those in the country were thinking of picking jobs outside. BusinessDay research shows that an average of 12 Nigerian trained doctors register for practice in the UK every week.

This means Nigeria is light years behind the WHO recommendation of one to 600 doctor patient ratio. We’re currently doing about one to 6000. Yet, the Nigerian system has no capacity to absorb the 3000 medical doctors churned out yearly by Nigerian universities. Many of them cannot even find places to do their compulsory National Service not to talk of further training in medical schools.

Instead of the government to invest in the health outcomes of Nigeria and make greater investments in medical training and absorptive capacity of the healthcare system, its health officials are busy making a caricature of the situation and playing Marie Antoinette (the last French Queen who spite her suffering people with “Let them eat cake” when told the people have no bread) over the people. Last time out it was the minister of health himself – a so-called professor of medicine, Isaac Adewole, saying Nigeria doesn’t have shortage of doctors and that it can’t even train all its doctors, advising some to take to tailoring, business and politics. This time, it is another medical doctor and minister of labour and productivity saying pointedly Nigeria does, in fact, have excess supply of doctors and that’s why they are exporting doctors to other countries.

With such ludicrous interventions by high ranking public officials who should know and who should be worried sick with Nigeria’s collapsing health system, we wonder what goes on at the federal executive council meetings every Wednesday. We hope it is not just an avenue for back-slapping, praise-singing, and competition for allocation of resources? Or is it a case of sleeping on duty, like the Catholic Bishop of Yola recently accused the president of?

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