By Francis Ewherido
The Consul General of Nigeria to South Africa, Mr. Godwin Adama, through his Vice Consul for Information and Culture, Mr. David Abrahim, revealed two Mondays ago that there are about 5,000 Nigerian medical doctors working in various private and public hospitals in South Africa.
“This shows that virtually every hospital in South Africa has a sizeable number of Nigerian doctors; and this includes teaching, public and private hospitals. What this means is that Nigerian doctors and other professionals are constantly adding value to the system and this cannot be over-emphasised,” he was quoted as saying.
South Africa is only one of the many countries where Nigerian professionals are migrating to. An estimated 26,000 Nigerian medical doctors practice in the United States, besides nurses and other medical personnel.
Nigerians make up about 77 per cent of black doctors in the US. But how many medical doctors are currently practicing in Nigeria? The number is estimated at 35,000 for a population of 198 million people. Reports say we need 235,000 doctors to meet World Health Organisation standard. So we have not even produced enough; meanwhile, we have donated about two-third of the ones we produced to the rest of the world to help make their societies better places.
Now look at our health sector. Look at our teaching hospitals. Look at government hospitals. Beyond minor ailments, many Nigerian with the wherewithal go abroad for treatment because of loss of confidence, sometimes for good reasons, in the Nigerian health sector. Ironically, some of the doctors who treat these Nigerians abroad are Nigerian medical doctors in Diaspora and they are damned good!
As usual, our data collection is lousy, but various sources put capital flight as result of medical tourism by Nigerians at between $1b and $3b. Except for government officials, who ought to have sorted out the health sector but failed to do so, I cannot blame anybody who has the resources and travels abroad for medical treatment.
Many Nigerians have lost family members and loved ones in avoidable circumstances. Patients die because of malfunctioning oxygen equipment; emergency cases are treated like patients with minor headaches until the victims slip through their fingers, hospitals demand police report before treating gunshot victims when there is a law in place urging them to treat first and then report to the law enforcement.
Deaths in avoidable circumstances are numerous in our health facilities. Until we sort all these out, you cannot blame those with the wherewithal who seek medical care abroad.
Unfortunately, the health sector mirrors all the other sectors of our national life. In the 80s, our best sportsmen were based in Nigeria; now they are foreign-based. Luckily, many of them still represent Nigeria in sports events. Many of our best engineers are abroad.
Many of our best nurses are abroad. Daily, Nigerians are pouring into Canada in droves, legally and illegally. The only people not leaving the country in droves are politicians. Other than politicians, Nigeria is hemorrhaging dangerously in all other sectors as a result of human capital flight.
When Nigeria’s economy started deteriorating in the 80s, which sparked the migration that has become a crisis, people went abroad, made money, legitimately or illegitimately; and came back to Nigeria to settle down. Then our international reputation took a hard knock and Nigerians started going abroad to have their babies so that these children can have an alternate passport to our green passport. Some Nigerians also started seeking the citizenship of other countries. The standard of education also nosedived and those who could afford it started sending their children abroad to get foreign degrees.
I remember in the 70s, my father and his peers laughed at their friends with foreign degrees. They saw them as intellectually lazy and inferior. A master’s degree from India then was equivalent to a first degree from a Nigerian university. Today what is the situation? How market?
Anyway, the economy grew worse and one of the spouses travelled abroad to work and send money home for the other spouse and the children. Many families are yet to recover from this sudden and forced separation. Some marriages broke down irretrievably; some spouses are still separated till date, while some children derailed as a result of the absence of one parent.
Currently, whole families are relocating, especially to Canada. In the last two years, many friends have left. It is very painful and unnerving seeing hitherto unwavering believers in the Nigerian project leaving our shores. But while Nigeria continues to bleed, these families at least gain because they are together. The importance of the family being under one roof cannot be overstretched. It enhances stability and cohesion.
No society develops with the way some of our best brains are migrating to other climes. In one of my trips to India, I carried out a small investigation and found out that some of the medical personnel who helped to make India a medical tourists’ destination relocated home from the US and Europe. While India’s best are coming home from Diaspora to develop their country, some of our best are relocating to other climes to make these societies better places. I quoted Brookings Institution report last week where India’s extreme poor has come down to 73 million people, 5.5 per cent of their population, while ours has grown to 87 million Nigerians, 44 per cent of our people. This is partly why.
You know, no matter how bad the situation deteriorates, majority of Nigerians will continue to live in Nigeria for obvious reasons: many do not know how or have the resources to relocate, while some have simply chosen to live here. In any case, I do not know any where on this planet where you can relocate over 198 million people without unprecedented chaos.
How did we come to this sorry state? What has made the Nigerian environment so acidic that many of us find it uninhabitable? We, especially our leaders, put ourselves in this mess. It is time to clear the mess. Talk to somebody, talk to your family, talk to your church members and fellow worshippers in your mosques, talk to your social groups, peer groups and all. Get involved; use that God-given talent. We must all work together to drag Nigeria from the cliff edge or tip over.
This column will be off, or appear intermittently, for a few weeks. This is to enable me focus fully on a project I am working on. See you soon.