Online medical consultation will reduce brain drain, medical tourism
Dr. Nnamdi C. Elenwoke is a consultant neurosurgeon at Hospital Santiago Apostol, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. The 35-year-old Nigerian-born physician in this interview with journalists, during a routine visit to Nigeria, said online medical consultation such as that provided by Docotal Health (www.docotal.com) could help to reduce brain drain and medical tourism. ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA was there. Excerpts:
What caused your exit from Nigeria?
I left the country because I was part of the 100 Nigerian students selected by the then President Obasanjo’s government to study medicine in Cuba. Upon completion of the study, I, together with the others came back to be absorbed into our medical system and to give back to my country. Unfortunately, inadequate and slow integration into the medical system made this move impossible. Also, I saw the need to get specialist training and going outside was the better option. I had to go on to study Family Medicine and later pursue another medical specialty, Neurosurgery, in Spain. Regardless of the difficulties of integration, I have been coming in and out of the country to collaborate with other medical agencies on how to bring sustainable healthcare to our people.
Brain drain in medical sector has been a great concern to many stakeholders in Nigeria. To what extent do you agree with the assertion?
Indeed, brain drain is a legitimate concern for any country. Naturally, humans tend to move to better places to fulfill their needs or desires. This has always been the case throughout history. An interesting research by NOI polls published in August 2017 indicated that Nigeria has about 72,000 medical doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, with only approximately 35,000 practicing in Nigeria. About 20,000 medical doctors are currently working outside the country. It is also important to note that patients also emigrate as well. Also in August 2017, the president, Healthcare Federation of Nigeria, HFN, Mrs. Clare Omatseye, mentioned that a total of one billion dollars is lost annually to medical tourism in Nigeria. If you want to solve this problem you have to tackle the root cause of brain drain.
Your discipline or specialty is short of enough professionals in Nigeria. What would you expect from the federal government to put in place before you can be attracted to come back home?
The needs of neurosurgeons in general are not too different from most highly specialized medical professionals. A good economic condition will make most professionals to return. Preference should be placed on our health sector so that necessary provisions will be made to enhance our health systems. According to Trading Economics, historically, our health expenditure is less than five per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contrary to the Abuja declaration of 2001. Policy makers usually allocate more to sectors that will increase revenue. It means that the Health sector is yet to become top priority in allocation. Health is wealth.
There are grapevine reports that if necessary facilities are put in place and there is also an adequate security measure put in place in Nigeria; that most Nigerians are willing to return home. To what degree will you rate the statement?
This is true to an extent. Sustained increase in generated revenues in a transparent society increases government spending on other sectors like health. There is a bilateral long-run relationship between economic growth and health expenditure. This is neither easy nor impossible. It involves organized planning and dedicated action. I believe that when most people in the Diasporas observe upgrades in infrastructure and security, they will decide to come back and stay. A worker is more productive in a conducive and safe environment.
What are other available windows or options available to you if you choose not to come back to Nigeria or remain where you are presently?
Although brain drain can increase a country’s inflow of hard currency through remittances or increase the culture popularity like Nigerian entertainment sector, the disadvantages to a nation, far out-way the advantages. My priority is to come back and stay. I am aware that there are limited number of Neurosurgeons in our country, and the need for neurosurgeons out way this limitation. Some doctors in the diaspora have developed means of working from their resident countries. Some are doing great works that involve transferring knowledge or exporting medical equipment to Nigeria. I am part of Docotal Health, a medical company with consultants comprising mostly Nigerian doctors within and outside of the country, who provide online solutions to medical problems. The Docotal Health Foundation seeks to provide medical equipment and facilities to various agencies as well as services to communities. You can learn more at www.docotal.com. The free mobile apps are available on Google Play Store and Apple App Store. The world is now a global village and we are in the information age. We are using every available channel to avail our people with health services.
A lot of Nigerians travel to India and some of these foreign countries to seek for medical solution to their problems. To what extent do you think your coming back to the Nigeria will arrest or control it?
This is not what one can do alone but requires teamwork. Many people are already doing a great job. For example, Dr. Douglas Okor of Spine Fixed in Abuja (SFIA) and his team are doing a wonderful job. Naturally, medical tourism will decrease when there is trust from the citizens. I mentioned before that I am actually working with Docotal Health (www.docotal.com), a health organization that offers online medical consultation. Some of the consultants are in the diaspora.
The other part of it is medical foundation whose vision is a prioritized sustainable healthcare for the vulnerable and the aged. We have a fantastic team working with other organizations and hospitals to help Nigeria achieve all the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. If other medical personnel in Diaspora will keep thinking homeward, there is no quantifying what health success we will achieve in our country. I am willing and ready to work with our companies and hospitals on contract to achieve this success.
What other message do you have for the government; Nigerians as well as your friends back home?
The government is trying her best. It is not easy to rule a nation of more than 190 million with a large number of varied ethnic groups where ethnocentricity seems more important than nationalistic values. The general population doesn’t understand how the government works. Policy-making can become difficult where you do not understand your neighbor. If you don’t understand your neighbor, then prejudice and lack of trust will have a way. Trust is fundamental in an effective team. Friends and well-wishers back home should understand that we are doing our best to achieve this dream. It is a gradual process that requires all hands being on deck. John Nash, the American mathematician, once said that the best for the group comes when everyone in the group does what’s best for him and the group.
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