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On medical brain drain, poor health system

By Editorial Board
24 April 2022   |   3:09 am
The unending flock to foreign countries by wealthy Nigerians in search of medical care constitutes a national embarrassment of intense proportion, while the poor

Medical care. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

The unending flock to foreign countries by wealthy Nigerians in search of medical care constitutes a national embarrassment of intense proportion, while the poor are left with no option other than to probably die. That is a sad testimonial for a country that is supposed to be a model and leading example in the African continent, more so as the authorities seem unperturbed by the atrocious phenomenon.

According to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigerians spend over $1 billion yearly on medicare abroad; and it is impacting negatively on the nation’s health system.  Also, at different times, President Muhammadu Buhari had lamented that the country had been losing hundreds of billions yearly to medical tourism.

This, the medical body says is occasioned by the brain drain, which is worsening the depleted healthcare resources in Nigeria and widening the gap in health inequities worldwide. Nigeria’s health sector challenge has become a bad ulcer thriving on the medications of doctors’ exodus occasioned by harsh working conditions, poor remuneration, deteriorating facilities, insecurity and harsh economic realities.

Essentially, the Nigerian health sector today groans under the devastating impact of huge human capital flight which now manifests as brain drain. It is thus regretted that even in Africa’s so-called largest economy, doctors no longer see a bright future within the shores of the country because the conditions of work are pathetic and insufferable.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Sub-Saharan Africa has about three per cent of the world’s health workers, while it accounts for 24 per cent of the global burden of disease. At present, Nigeria has a doctor-to-population ratio of about 1:4000-5000 which falls far short of the WHO recommended doctor-to-population ratio of 1:600. It is an understatement to say that there is a deficit of doctors in this country to serve the over 200 million population.

Yet, a while ago, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige reportedly said that doctors who would like to relocate to other countries in search of greener pastures were free to do so, claiming that Nigeria has enough medical personnel to cater for the population. This suggests poor data management or poor knowledge of realities. In fact, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health conducted recruitment exercises for Nigerian doctors last year.

Poor doctor-patient ratio in the country is unfortunate and should worry the authorities at all levels of governance. Yet, there is no indication that the country’s leadership is about to address the reproach as they rather resort to medical tourism, because most of the nation’s leaders, including the president, always fly abroad for treatment, an unacceptable situation in a country that once boasted of having one of the best four teaching hospitals in the Commonwealth.

The indifference of the country’s duty bearers to her health sector challenge, which discounts the fact that the exodus of doctors is at the expense of the lives of Nigerians, is a paradox rolled into a tragedy. The more doctors leave this country, the higher the maternal and child deaths as well as very low lifespan and expectancy. Besides, poor disease treatment outcomes can be worrisome. This may account for why Nigeria is still grappling with disturbing poor health indices.

Based on the brain drain that has bedevilled the sector, it is apparent that trained health professionals are needed in every part of the world. So, government at all levels should rise up to the occasion to reverse this trend, because when healthcare professionals lack opportunities for professional development, lack enabling environment to function, cannot fully use their skills and find that the quality of their lives is woeful, compared to their peers in more advanced countries, they have no choice but to flee abroad for greener pastures.

So, until Nigeria places the highest premium on healthcare, the exodus of doctors will not end. Therefore, the government needs to take healthcare seriously and make it a major priority in view of its critical importance to the citizens’ lives. As this newspaper has always noted, the value of budget proposals for health must be remarkably enhanced.

In fact, healthcare requires remarkable investment, not just increased funding. The better investment can translate to more remuneration for health workers, increased training opportunities for doctors, and availability of equipment and other infrastructural facilities.

As a matter of urgency, the government at all levels must instil confidence in and show a willingness to improve healthcare services by enunciating necessary laws that are capable of increasing funding for the sector and ensuring that the funds are properly managed to save the nation’s health infrastructure and personnel.

Better political commitment to healthcare; better appreciation of the worth of medical personnel, along with better and competitive wages; better working conditions and inspiring work environment; better security and access to social amenities; attractive and globally respected postgraduate training programmes for health workers will not only stabilise the healthcare delivery system, but it will also stop the current brain drain.

It is also curious that most of our leaders who campaigned on stoppage of foreign medical tourism for public officials in the previous administration have not made good their promises by investing robustly in health facilities. Leaders should stop lamentation, but act now to reverse this ugly trend of Nigerian doctors trooping abroad in search of greener pastures.

Nigerians expect President Muhammadu Buhari who has spent so much time in the United Kingdom on health grounds, to lead by personal example, execute the change he promised against foreign medical tourism in 2015, and strengthen local health facilities for the benefit of Nigerian masses.