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Brain drain in the Nigerian health sector

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By Mercy Kelani

Bill to enforce 5 years service on Nig. Medical graduates is being countered.

A new bill proposed to impose mandatory five years service on Nigerian medical graduates in a bid to end the brain drain of doctors to the UK and the US has been said to be appalling. Last month, the bill passed its second reading in the lower house of the Nigerian parliament and could be put to a public reading in a few days. However, union of doctors and civil society organizations have met the plan with solid resistance, fiercely opposing its implementation. They asked that the bill is withdrawn with immediate effect.

Lawmaker and leading advocate for the bill, Ganiyu Johnson, addressed medical students and doctors on social and mainstream media, stating that the federal government sacrificed huge money investments to enhance the training of these medical doctors. He added that the subsidization of the tuition of medical students require that within the mandatory five years period, they give back to the society. This act is regarded by some as the government’s way of righting the wrongs caused by brain drain among Nigerian medical professionals.

Nigeria lacks required health technologies in sector.

Chidiebere Echieh, a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Calabar, highlighted factors that make doctors leave the country. Some of these factors include recurrent and prolonged strikes in the Nigerian health sector, more than a decade static take-home wages for doctors and rising job insecurity; all these disadvantages still remain despite promises made by the government to ensure payment review every five years. He added that he finished from medical school in 2007 and ever since, despite further training, his salary has remained stagnant.

In 2022, Echieh travelled for a postgraduate programme at the University of Arizona in the US. There, he discovered the difference in health technology between his own country, Nigeria, and the US — which is another factor encouraging brain drain. In the US, there are various health technologies that are unavailable in Nigeria. Resultantly, medical personnel have to travel overseas to acquire first-hand experiences of these technologies. There is a limitation to mastery without hands-on experience health technologies.

About 5,000 doctors relocated to the UK between 2015-2021.

President of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Innocent Orji, said that the unavailable technology has become death counts in the country. There have been a report by doctors concerning a rise in trauma and depression, caused by many avoidable deaths in Nigerian hospitals. Watching people die of medical conditions that can be easily treated as a result of unavailable basic technology and equipment is one of the most common causes of depression in the country. This current situation has reached crisis point.

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) added Nigeria on its red list to curb other countries going after a medical workforce that is already suffering depletion. The largest recruiter of medical doctors from Nigeria are UK, Canada, the US and Saudi Arabia. According to an estimate by the Development Research and Projects Centre in Nigeria, about 5,000 doctors migrated to the UK between 2015 and 2021. Despite the suffering in the health sector, Nigerian doctors affirmed that Nigeria’s private sector suffer more than the system funded by the state.

Human beings are Nigeria’s new oil — public affairs analyst.

Commenting on the issue of brain drain in the country, Chima Christian, a Nigerian-based public affairs analyst, stated that it is a huge opportunity for graduates. There is a rising demand for Nigeria’s skilled workforce abroad. Therefore, he added, that medical personnel should literally be exported so as to earn more foreign currencies through the means of remittances. In his words, “Today, our new oil is human beings.” More investment is required in universities to train more young Nigerians in fields that are in demand. By doing this, the country would have adequate workers to attend to its needs at home, without impeding ambitions of those who would like to work overseas.

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