It was heartbreaking seeing pictures and videos of Nigerian doctors recently queueing up in a Saudi Arabian recruitment firm. The firm, Meed Consultants, is recruiting doctors in different specialties under a program tagged, ‘Saudi Ministry of Health Doctors Recruitment, August 2021.
The specialties required include anesthesia, Intensive Care Unit (ICU), pediatrics surgery, family medicine (consultants only), obstetrics and gynecology, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT), Emergency medicine, all sub-specialties (surgery), all sub-specialties (internal medicine), orthopedic surgery, Ophthalmology, Radiology as well as Hematology and Histopathology.
This newspaper notes with regret that in recent years Nigerian doctors have been leaving the country in droves in search of greener pastures due to poor service condition at home. According to some estimates about 2,000 doctors have left Nigeria over the past few years. Nigerian doctors have been migrating to United States of America, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and many other countries where their services are perceived to be better appreciated.
Statistics from General Medical Council (GMC) the UK, as of July 2017, shows that over 4,765 Nigerian doctors are working in the UK which is 1.7 percent of the total of the UK’s medical workforce.
According to statistics of doctors in Nigeria, the country has about 72,000 medical doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and approximately only 35,000 practice in Nigeria. In a country with a huge population of over 200 million, the 35,000 translates to one doctor to 5,000 patients. This figure is a far cry from the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients. Comparatively, the ratio of doctor-patient in India is 1:2083 and in the United States 1:500. Nigeria’s statistics, therefore, is to say the least worrisome. And the current mass exodus of doctors from the country have simply exacerbated the already bad situation.
Experts have attributed the poor working conditions in the country to the mass exodus of doctors. Instructively, annual healthcare threshold per person in the United States of America is $10,000, while in Nigeria it is just $6.
Also, it is observable that medical examinations are getting more expensive in Nigeria. It is in this light that the current trend of senior doctors and consultants leaving the country is saddening. Unfortunately, it is doubtful if the nation’s policy makers are reflecting on this ugly development. Their utterances have not suggested that concern.
We recall that last year the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said doctors who felt they want to relocate in search of greener pastures are free to do so, boasting that the nation had enough medical personnel.
We disagree with the Minister as the fact on ground shows that the country is grossly lacking enough medical doctors. Available record indicate that the country needs not less than 283,333 doctors to meet global standards.
According to the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), about N576 billion ($1.2 billion) is lost to medical tourism yearly in Nigeria, an amount that could have been invested in the development of the country’s health care system and the country as a whole. This is about N100 billion less than the N632.7 billion allocated to the health sector in the 2021 budget.
We recall that in April 2001, heads of state and governments for African Union countries came together at a summit to address the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases plaguing the region and pledged a 15 per cent budget to the health sector.
However, 20 years after, Nigeria has fallen short of the 15 percent pledge. Despite the ravaging Covid -19 pandemic, the country’s allocation to health for 2021 is just 4.5 per cent.
A new report by the non-profit coalition known as the Partnership for Advocacy in Child and Family Health has analyzed the country’s Federal Ministry of Health and its agencies’ budgets between 2001 and 2021. Its findings show that Nigeria neglected to follow through on its promise, oftentimes barely reaching a third of the pledged target.
According to the report, the average budget allocation to the sector was about 4.7 per cent across two decades. Needles to day that this has to change.
From the foregoing, we call on the federal and state governments to significantly increase their budgetary allocations to the health sector. Most of the health infrastructure is in decrepit shape. One of the major lessons of the Covid -19 pandemic was the need to revive the healthcare sector.
Consequently, the working condition in the health sector must be improved significantly to stem the tide of brain drain in the country. There should also be better remuneration and motivation for health workers and improved medical research. The government should arrest the current disturbing flight of doctors outside the country in the midst of dire challenges in the health sector by seeking alternative sustainable sources of funding for the sector.