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EDITORIAL

Tackling Doctor-Patient Ratio

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The doctor-patient ratio has become a subject of debate among Nigerians especially since the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, announced on a breakfast television interview to the consternation of viewers that the country has surplus doctors. He dismissed fears over the annual migration of 2,000 medical doctors to foreign countries and its likely impact on the nation’s healthcare delivery system.

Ngige’s disclosure is coming on the heels of Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole’s earlier reaction when asked to comment on the rising unemployment among physicians in Nigeria. He was quoted to have advised unemployed doctors to embrace farming, if they were unable to secure employment to practise their profession. Ngige, who is also a medical doctor, said it was good news that Nigerian doctors were leaving the country’s shores in droves in search of greener pasture and expressed optimism that migration of physicians   to foreign countries has the potential of increasing capital inflow into the country.

There is no doubt that the nation’s poor health sector has come under intense searchlight as a result of infrastructural decay and inadequate personnel. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the ideal requirement in doctor-patient ratio should be one doctor to 600 patients. Sadly, owing to inadequate number of physicians employed in both public and private health facilities, one doctor presently attends to more than 6,000 patients in the country. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has sent a distress call to the federal government to address this annual migration of its members, a phenomenon that has left the nation’s tattered health sector in jeopardy and rendered healthcare services delivery a ruse.

From reliable statistics on the number of physicians presently engaged in the health sector, Nigeria has fewer than 45,000 medical doctors engaged in the country, instead of the nearly 300,000 doctors required to meet WHO’s standards on doctor-patient ratio. According to NMA, there are about 80,000 doctors on its membership register, with nearly about half of them in foreign countries in search of better conditions of service. The inability of the Nigerian government to employ adequate number of health personnel accounts for the increasing backwardness in the provision of improved healthcare to citizens. Worried by this painful reality, the NMA and other medical groups have called on the federal and state governments to embark on measures aimed at engaging unemployed physicians who are presently roaming the streets in search of jobs.

For us as a newspaper, we find it inexplicable that top government officials of a nation that is enmeshed in frightening inadequacy in health manpower can be so bold as to boast of attaining  self-sufficiency in the supply of medical professionals.

It is this yawning gap needed to meet the healthcare needs in the country that has led to worsening conditions of the sector and the emergence of quackery that has the deepened the plight of healthcare in the country. Apart from the deplorable state of health facilities plaguing the country, Nigeria has become one of the worst countries suffering   from avoidable deaths due to poor infrastructure and dearth of physicians to attend to the sick.

To reverse the trend, the federal government should, as a matter of urgency, engage unemployed doctors in order to cover the manpower gap in the nation’s healthcare system. There is the need to declare a state of emergency in the health sector in order to resuscitate decaying infrastructure and stave off further deterioration of the sector. Engaging and encouraging other health workers to be gainfully employed to practise their profession without let or hindrance is a policy that ought to be put in place and upheld.

Considering the urgent need to meet WHO standards in the number of physicians required to run an ideal health system for over 190 million people, Nigeria is short by over 250,000 doctors. Looking at the annual migration of 2,000 doctors, there is the need to provide conducive atmosphere for practising doctors in our health facilities, as well as incentives to discourage their migration to other countries.

In our opinion, a nation that seeks to improve its healthcare management cannot do so by displaying a nonchalant disposition to issues affecting manpower. We are also compelled to suggest that the government should put facilities in place in order to retain efficient professionals in the health system and encourage the brightest of Nigerian students    to study medicine, maximize the nation’s potential and meet the doctor-patient ratio as stipulated by the global health body.

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