New Telegraph

Medical Brain Drain and Citizens’ Wellbeing

W he 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. Health Minister Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate under- stands what lies ahead. Speaking at a reception to welcome him to the ministry in some months ago, the Professor of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases said it was his intention to work with health actors, parastatals, hospitals, states and private sectors in improving the standard of health- care, in order to stall overseas medical tourism. 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. In fact according to reports every year roughly 2, 000 doctors vote with their feet and head for greener pastures in such countries like the UK, the US, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, South Africa, Ghana and even some obscure countries so long as the national flag is not green-white-green. According to Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) statistics, about 5,600 doctors have migrated to the United Kingdom in the last eight years (between 2014 and 2022).

There are close to 10, 000 Nigerian doctors in the UK alone. More doctors are working towards relocating without minding the harsh work environment they may meet in their new country of abode. The United States and Canada also 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. 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 dur- ing 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 doc- tors 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.

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