In March 2019 many Nigerian doctors gathered at an edifice at the nation’s capital, Abuja, and another group at the country’s commercial centre, Lagos, to partake at the test conducted by the Saudi Arabian health ministry.
In an image of the Nigerian medical “brain drain”, those who wished to migrate to the oil-rich kingdom were required to pass should an exam before they could be employed.
Weeks before the move by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to lure some of Nigeria’s greatest medical minds, dozens had taken the weekday regular skilled Professional Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) exams at the British Council. Once they pass, it will enable them to work in the UK.
According to some estimates, by Al Jazeera news about 2,000 doctors have left the African country over the past few years. Doctors excuse their mass exit on poor operating conditions – just about 4% of Nigeria’s budget is allotted to health. While the annual care threshold per person within the North American country is $10,000, in the giant of Africa it’s simply $6.
In a rather disturbing remark, the minister of labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige according to a report by The Punch, said
“I am not worried (about doctors leaving the country). We have a surplus. If you have a surplus, you export. It happened some years ago here. I was taught chemistry and biology by Indian teachers in my secondary school days.
“There is a surplus in their country and we also have a surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. In my area, we have excess.
“Who said we don’t have enough doctors? We have more than enough. You can quote me. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out. When they go abroad, they earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil.”
When asked further, if he does not consider brain drain? he said;
“I know a couple of them who practise abroad but set up medical centres back home. They have a CAT scan, MRI scan which even the government cannot maintain. So, I don’t see any loss,”
Continuing he said; “Brain drain will only be inimical when for instance neurosurgeons travel and we don’t have neurosurgeons here.”
HEAR HIM YOURSELF;
The above statement annoyed Nigerians who are already in grief over the depleting state of the health sector, here’s what a renowned physician said;
“More than half of those seeking visas to [India] are going for medical care that is not available here in Nigeria. Indigent Nigerians would be at the mercy of the dilapidated health infrastructure,” Onwufor Uche, consultant and director of the Gynae Care Research and Cancer Foundation in Abuja, told Al Jazeera.
“It has become worse; a doctor [in Nigeria] earns N200,000 monthly ($560), necessitating moving to countries where they can be better paid for their services … This ultimately means that eight of 10 Nigerians are presently receiving substandard or no medical care at all.”
Middle-class and wealthy Nigerians often travel for healthcare. Even the septuagenarian Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, seeks medical care in London.
British, American, South African, Emirati and Saudi Arabian agencies operate in Nigeria to recruit the best doctors. Nigeria’s polling agency, NOI Polls, in partnership with Nigerian Health Watch in 2017, found that almost all doctors request to work abroad.
“The trend of doctors emigrating to alternative countries is at associate degree uncomparable high,” Chike Nwangwu, head of NOIPolls, told Al Jazeera in Abuja. “Our survey … showed that 88 per cent of doctors is considering work opportunities abroad.”
Reasons for emigrating include better facilities and work environment, higher salaries, and improved quality of life.
In some countries, medical schools and residencies are subsidised by government funds, an investment that is now benefiting them.
With a calculable population of over one hundred eighty million, there is one doctor per 5,000 people in Nigeria, according to Isaac Folorunso Adewole, the health minister, compared with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of one per 600 people.
There are 72,000 doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN); over half practice outside the country.
WATCH A TOUCHING STORY OF MOTHER AFTER DOCTOR WENT ON STRIKE;
“Nine in every ten doctors are considering work opportunities outside African country. And it’s projected to stay rising as doctors still face general challenges,” said NOIPolls’ Nwangwu. “I truly suppose [Nigeria] is already at the state of emergency with the provision of medical doctors.”
The country’s worsening health sector also grapples with strikes by health workers. The government is usually in conflict with the Nigerian Medical Association, an umbrella union of doctors, over working conditions. The union argues that government officials fail to stick to agreements, leading to industrial action.
When asked last year why Nigerian doctors had to wait a long time to get residency training, Adewole appeared to make light of the issue, saying: “It might sound selfish, but we can’t all be specialists; we can’t. Some are going to be farmers; some are going to be politicians … the maker of my robe may be a doctor. He makes the best gown. And some are going to be specialists, some will be GPs, some will be farmers.”
As well as angering some doctors, the apparent failure to act seriously also affects patients.
“The government needs to urgently start addressing the issues and concerns of the medical workers and especially the doctors. The truth is, most of these doctors leave for better working conditions and you can’t blame them,” said Mariam Abdullahi, a 38-year-old patient at a hospital in Abuja.
“I am being brought to meet strange faces and completely different doctors nearly at every one of my bi-monthly visits and I am continually told the last doctor left the country. As a patient I feel heartbroken anytime my doctors leave, but what can I do when the system treats them poorly?”
It’s no more a matter of debate that the number of doctors available to Nigerians is increasingly dropping constantly, with the lamentation from the practising medical professionals, it would, therefore, be safe to say, that the minister of labour and employment is wrong in his verdict, encouraging doctors to vacate the country if they want to.
Amongst the major things that reveal the strength of a nation, a well-structured health system makes is a top priority.
If President Buhari decides to seek medical attention outside Nigeria it shows that the nations health system and the lives of the masses may be in grave danger.
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