We should be talking of a national emergency to check the exodus of medical doctors from Nigeria. It is a frightening situation that must move the government from excuses to action. The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) boasts of 80,000 registered practitioners, of this number, an alarming 50 per cent cannot be found in the country as residents.
The figures are progressing annually. According to Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) statistics, about 5,600 doctors have migrated to the United Kingdom in the last eight years, 2014 to 2022. There are close to 9, 976 Nigerian doctors in the UK. More doctors are working towards relocating without minding the harsh work environment.
The United States and Canada boast of a strong Nigerian medical community. Many medical tourists have come back with stories of meeting Igbo, Yoruba and Bini speaking doctors in various facilities, from Washington to Ontario and even across the border in far flung Alaska. In the Middle East, Nigerian doctors are legion. With the best of medical equipment, they have distinguished themselves.
You find them in Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We can rightly claim that Nigerians are the real doctors without borders, for you can see them scattered all over the world and making marks. New Zealand and down under Australia may be far, far away but our medical practitioners are not deterred by distance.
A former minister said he did not quarrel with this movement. He argued that work mobility is part of the new world order. While admitting that the exodus equally affects countries like the United Kingdom and Gambia, he promised to work out a policy that will bring the doctors back.
The major reason that forces the doctors out is poor remuneration. Many of them, just like other compatriots, are unable to fulfil financial obligations. In 2009, a new salary structure was implemented following deliberations with the Federal Government.
The agreement was that the wages will be reviewed upwards every five years. About a decade and half after that understanding, doctors are still glued to the same pay package. The result is that citizens see more work to rule in our hospitals than Medicare.
In the past, medical doctors complained bitterly about the appointment of non- professionals to oversee the Federal Ministry of Health. Chief Daniel Ugwu, a lawyer, was Health Minister in the Second Republic. Dr. Ihechukwu Madubuike moved from education in the Second Republic to health during the military era. The situation appears to be worsening under medical doctor ministers.
The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) may be forced to adopt a name change. This is because many of the resident doctors do not have accommodation within their place of work. The import is that more lives are lost during emergencies as the doctor takes more time to move from his house to the hospital.
Things have changed for the worse. Time was when Nigerian doctors left jobs overseas to work at home. Dr. Adeoye Lambo was House Surgeon, General Hospital London in 1949. He moved to Midland Nerve Hospital as Resident House Physician. It was from there he rushed back to the University College, Ibadan in 1950 as Medical Officer.
Herbert Kodilinye was Consultant Ophthalmologist, National Health Services in the United Kingdom. Theophilus Ogunlesi served as Registrar, Tropical Diseases Hospital, London between 1957 and 1958. Both men journeyed back home to work. Today, the reverse is happening. Our doctors are leaving in droves.
The doctor patient ratio is 1: 1000 which is far below the World Health Organisation recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients. Since 1963, the country has turned out 93, 000 doctors. Government must act fast. We recommend a budgetary allocation of, at least, 15 percent to the Health Sector annually in order to meet up with Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
The home country of Osahon Enabulele, President World Medical Association must not put him to ridicule. Nigerians are excelling all over the globe. Chidi Achebe, second son of Chinua Achebe won the John and Samuel Bard Award, for Excellence in Medicine and Science in 2020.
Vincent Njar died of cancer and Chibawanye Ene researched on brain tumours. The World Bank honoured Funmi Adewara. Government should stem medical tourism by pumping more money into health services. We dare say Nigerian doctors are as good as the best anywhere.
Dr. Benjamin Anyanwu has blazed the trail. He set up Regions Stroke and Neuroscience Hospital, Mgbirichi near Owerri. He is a Vascular Neurologist based in the US. More doctors will come home under a clement environment.