• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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From brain drain to brain gain: The controversial impact of Nigeria’s medical exodus and Dr. Funmi Adewara’s revolutionary telehealth vision

From brain drain to brain gain: The controversial impact of Nigeria’s medical exodus and Dr. Funmi Adewara’s revolutionary telehealth vision

A few years ago, I expressed deep concern over the exodus of doctors from Nigeria. I even went as far as writing a petition to the UK Prime Minister and various embassies voicing my displeasure at their seeming encouragement of the trend. The UK’s policy seemed to encourage the poaching of our already scarce medical professionals. To put it in perspective, Nigeria has an alarmingly low doctor-to-population ratio, with approximately one doctor per 5,000 people, compared to the UK, which has about one doctor per 356 people. This disparity seemed unjust, especially when considering that the UK, with its vast resources, has more doctors relative to its population than Nigeria, which struggles to provide adequate healthcare for its over 200 million citizens.

My petition highlighted the hypocrisy of the UK government, which often speaks of aiding Nigeria and Africa, yet implements policies that exacerbate our brain drain. The situation was especially frustrating considering Nigeria’s high mortality rate and low life expectancy, which are partly due to inadequate healthcare services. Nigeria’s life expectancy stands at around 55 years, significantly lower than the UK’s 81 years.

However, over the years, my perspective has evolved. I now see the emigration of professionals not as a loss but as a potential long-term benefit for Nigeria. One clear advantage is the significant remittances sent back home by the diaspora. In 2022, Nigerian expatriates sent home an estimated $21 billion, which is a vital contribution to the country’s economy. Another crucial benefit is knowledge transfer. Professionals who gain advanced knowledge and experience abroad can act as conduits for repatriating expertise back to Africa. A prime example of this is Dr. Funmi Adewara, the founder and CEO of Mobihealth International.

Dr. Adewara’s journey is a testament to the positive impact of international exposure. Having worked within the NHS in the UK and gained significant experience in the pharmaceutical industry, she leveraged her expertise to establish Mobihealth International. This pioneering telehealth company is dedicated to bridging the gap in access to affordable healthcare in underserved communities across Africa.

Achievements and Recognitions

Under Dr. Adewara’s leadership, Mobihealth has secured substantial funding from various international organizations. Notable among these is a $1 million grant from the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) for a feasibility study on expanding telehealth services across Africa. Additionally, the company has raised $1.5 million from Afreximbank to further its mission of achieving Universal Health Coverage. Mobihealth was recognized by the World Bank, winning the SDGs Global Award 2020 for its significant contributions to the sustainable development goals.

Mobihealth’s subscriber base has seen remarkable growth. From 2020 to 2021, the subscriber base in Nigeria alone grew from less than 4,000 to over 34,000, with revenue increasing from $83,500 to $814,400 within the same period. The company aims to capture 10% of the market by 2033.

Core Services and Impact

Mobihealth offers a comprehensive range of telehealth services, including:

  • Teleconsultations: Access to local and international medical experts across various specialties.
  • Remote Diagnostics: AI-powered tools for vital signs, physical examinations, and ultrasound scans.
  • Telehealth Kiosks: Equipped with essential medical tools and internet connectivity, deployed in schools, factories, banks, and other institutions.
  • Mobile Health Units: Reaching rural and underserved areas, these units are equipped with diagnostic tools, laboratories, pharmacies, and health technicians.

The impact of Mobihealth’s services on healthcare access in underserved communities cannot be overstated. In a region where healthcare infrastructure is often inadequate, Mobihealth’s innovative solutions have provided critical medical care to thousands of individuals who would otherwise have limited or no access to healthcare. The establishment of telehealth kiosks and mobile health units has significantly improved healthcare delivery in rural and hard-to-reach areas.

The Role of Government and Support for Initiatives

To further support initiatives like Mobihealth, government must create an enabling environment for telehealth and digital health innovations. This can be achieved by:

Investing in Digital Infrastructure: Ensuring widespread access to high-speed internet, especially in rural areas, is essential for the effective delivery of telehealth services.

Regulatory Support: Developing and implementing policies that support telehealth initiatives, including licensing and accreditation for telehealth providers.

Public-Private Partnerships: Encouraging collaborations between government, private sector, and international organizations to fund and scale telehealth projects.

Education and Training: Investing in the education and training of healthcare professionals to effectively use telehealth technologies.

Subsidies and Incentives: Providing financial incentives and subsidies to telehealth providers to lower the cost of services for underserved populations.

The poor state of healthcare in Africa underscores the critical need for services like those provided by Mobihealth. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa bears 25% of the global disease burden but has only 3% of the world’s health workers and less than 1% of global health expenditure. This severe mismatch highlights the urgency of innovative solutions to improve healthcare access and outcomes across the continent.

Looking Forward: The Impact of AI and Technology

Looking ahead, the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into telehealth services is poised to revolutionize healthcare delivery. AI can enhance diagnostic accuracy, personalize treatment plans, and predict health trends, making healthcare more proactive and efficient. Dr. Adewara envisions AI playing a significant role in Mobihealth’s future, enabling the company to provide even more precise and effective care to its patients.

Interview with Dr. Funmi Adewara

To delve deeper into Dr. Funmi Adewara’s journey and her mission with Mobihealth, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing her. We discussed her background, the challenges she faced, and her vision for the future of healthcare in Africa. This insightful interview will be available on “Techtalk with Afo” for viewing. Stay tuned to learn more about how Dr. Adewara is driving change and making significant impact in the healthcare sector.

Conclusion

While the initial brain drain might seem detrimental, the long-term benefits of remittances, knowledge transfer, and the establishment of innovative enterprises like Mobihealth demonstrate that this migration can ultimately contribute positively to Nigeria’s development. Dr. Adewara’s journey from Nigeria to the UK and back is a powerful example of how global experience can fuel local impact. Her achievements underscore the potential for returnee diaspora to transform healthcare and other sectors in Africa, paving the way for a brighter, healthier future for all. By leveraging international expertise and resources, initiatives like Mobihealth can address critical gaps in the healthcare system, improve access to quality care, and drive economic growth. The story of Dr. Adewara highlights the importance of supporting and celebrating the contributions of our global professionals, as their successes abroad can translate into profound benefits at home. As we look to the future, it is clear that fostering such talent and innovation is crucial for sustainable development in Nigeria and across the continent.