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Time to stop Medical brain drain

The recent report of about 5,405 Nigerian- trained doctors and nurses working in the United Kingdom hospitals represents a frightening dimension of brain drain in the country.

Incidentally, the health sector has witnessed increasing migration of the best brain including many medical personnel trooping out of the country in search of greener pastures.

This brain-drain in the health sector, which has always existed at some level, has in recent years taken on an alarming turn with the changes in the state of the Nigerian economy.

Investigations revealed that Nigerian doctors have been migrating to the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the UK and many other nations across the globe.

Relevant medical agencies in Nigeria could not provide official data on emigrant doctors, but figures released in February 2018 by the British government indicate that no fewer than 5,405 Nigerian-trained doctors and nurses are currently working with the British National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom UK.

From the statistics, Nigeria has 80,000 registered doctors; more than 50,000 are practicing abroad. 92 percent of Nigerian doctors in Nigeria are considering finding a job abroad and 70 percent of them are making plans to leave for foreign lands and are taking exams to that effect.

What this mean is that Nigerian medics constitute 3.9 per cent of the 137,000 foreign staff of 202 nationalities working alongside British doctors and nurses.

Nigerians in the diaspora sent home $22 billion in 2017, a 6.4% increase from the amount repatriated in 2016. This makes Nigeria the highest in the Sub-Saharan region in terms of diaspora remittances and fifth in the world, thus echoing the positive contribution of Nigerians in the diaspora to the Nigerian economy.

This trend has been having negative effects on Nigeria’s health sector. As a result of this, experts say that Nigeria is experiencing a shortage of doctors in most of its hospitals.

The ratio of medical practitioners to patients in the country is very low. Official records reveal that Nigeria currently has one doctor to attend to 3, 500 patients in the country, which is a far cry to the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients. Already it takes an old patient two hours and three hours for new patients to see a doctor on the average.

It will not be far from the truth to state that the lapses are due to decades of harsh economic policies, which had led to chronically under-funded health systems.

There is no gainsaying that the effects of brain drain syndrome in Nigeria’s health sector are devastating. Today, Nigeria’s health system wobbles and the future bleaks even the more, no thanks to the huge challenges this single problem of human capital flight.

Nigeria’s health industry is already left in a state of quagmire. The health institutions/facilities have continued to beg for an overall cleansing; this is a necessary antidote without which health care delivery will remain in total disarray.

The flight of medical personnel from Nigeria is not unconnected with the prevailing severe economic recession and hyper-inflation, among many others, which has reduced the purchasing power. Many other glaring and remote factors are culpable for the brain-drain conundrum.

Despite the dearth of personnel in the well-being sector, it is laughable that only less than one-third of the registered Nigerian doctors practice in the country while over two-thirds of the professionals are migrating abroad, solely to earn better wages and career development.

It is simply stating the obvious that the ugly trend has also reduced the number of dynamic and innovative people in the health care sector, which the stakeholders and keen observers believe to be responsible for the medical quackery in the length and breadth of Nigeria.

The dilapidated equipment in hospitals and the mismanagement of the little resources, especially in government hospitals is also not helping matters. Most doctors after graduation do not have the basic framework to allow them to do their job properly.

There are rare or no opportunity for professional career development and training. Every health worker, other than a doctor, wants medical research and up-to-date clinical knowledge, which are not accessible in Nigeria.

We are of the opinion that the Federal Government must do something quickly to stop this brain drain. It is long overdue for Nigeria to develop robust nationalistic policies and programmes that would promote the common good of doctors and prevent brain drain.

By doing so, it will create a healthcare system that delivers good outcomes such that no one needs to travel out as the health of the nation is expected to be paramount to the government and the general citizenry.

We also submit that real solutions lie in the courage of Federal Government intervention and legislative actions towards developing a holistic package of measures and conducive environment with upgrade of existing medical facilities nationwide.

We must change the narrative with maximum opportunities for local training for all medical graduates under satisfactory, attractive terms and conditions of service that will stop the unhealthy and devastating emigration of the best brains in the country.

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