By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
MINISTER of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, yesterday clarified his position on the issue of international migration by the Nigerian Medical Doctors as contained in his interview on Channels Television live morning programme on Wednesday.
Senator Ngige has been under serious attack from different group especially the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA for saying that the county has enough medical doctors but the minister said his comment has been subjected to serial distortion and misinterpretation from skewed news broadcast by the Channels media team.
He described the incident as well as the selective reportage which it fueled in the media as unnecessary, calling for a deeper understanding of the issue in question.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media Nwachukwu Obidiwe in Abuja, Ngige said he fully appreciated the sensitivity of the issue at hand and the consequential negative import of brain drain on national productivity.
According to him, “I speak from the vintage position of being a medical doctor and member, Nigerian Medical Association since June, 1979 and enriched by my vast knowledge on health administration, having retired as a Deputy Director, Medical Services and Training from the Federal Ministry of Health in 1998, member of Vision 2010 Committee on Health as well as senior member, Senate Committee on Health 2011-2015.
“Therefore, the truth no matter how it hurts, must be told and reality, boldly faced. Hence, apart from Nigeria’s non-compliance with the World Health Organisation’s ratio of one doctor to six hundred patients of which I was misquoted, every other thing I said in that interview is an existential reality, useful and constructive facts which every Nigerian that watched the full interview will hardly dispute.
“I invite opinion moulders especially those who have spoken or written on this issue to watch the full clip of my interview with the Channels.
“And it is for this reason that I admitted having a little cause to worry about brain drain among medical doctors.
“The fact is that while the federal government has recorded a remarkably steady improvement in our healthcare system, Nigeria is yet to get there. We do not at present have enough health facilities to accommodate all the doctors seeking to do tertiary specialist training (residency) in the Teaching Hospitals, Federal Medical Centres and few accredited state and private specialist centres in the country, where roughly 20% of the yearly applicants are absorbed while the remaining 80%, try their luck elsewhere.”
According to the statement, most of these rejected applicants usually throng the Federal Ministry of Health and that of Labour and Employment to complain of being illegally schemed out.
He said, “What the Minister meant, therefore, is that these professionals have the right to seek for training abroad to sharpen their skills, become specialists and later turn this problem to a national advantage when they repatriate their legitimate earnings and later return to the country.
“Even where some of these doctors are bonded to their oversea training institutions, examples abound on the large number of them who have successfully returned to settle and establish specialist centres across the country. It is therefore a question of turning your handicap to an advantage.
“This situation in any case is not peculiar to Nigeria as countries like Pakistan, Ceylon, Bangledesh exported teachers to secondary schools in the old Eastern and Northern Regions in the sixties and seventies where their earnings were also repatriated to their countries.”
The statement further stated that the Ministry of Labour and Employment has a migration policy, developed with the European Union to assist skilled Nigerians work and earn decent living abroad, adding that the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora has done a lot of work in encouraging Nigerian professionals abroad to return, with a good number of doctors relocating from the United States and other European countries.
It also said the problem was not limited to doctors seeking specialization as young medical officers who graduate from medical schools spend two to three years looking for a space for Housemanship.
“Luckily, the Federal Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and Employment is developing a federal assisted programme for these young doctors and other allied health professionals such as pharmacists, physiotherapists in a move to broaden training opportunities,” it said.
It again asserted that Nigeria has enough medical personnels to man non-specialist centres in the rural areas, regretting that the major problem was the refusal of young doctors to work in the hinterland. Even the National Youth Service Corps doctors, all, today seek postings to the cities as against what obtained some decades ago.
“Besides, doctors who did not get the few vacancies in the tertiary centres especially those owned by the Federal Government find it difficult to work in the rural hospitals.
“But the truth is that the Federal Government has in its 2019 Budget Proposal now before the National Assembly, implemented the Health Act provisions for 1% of the consolidated revenue of the Federation to be added to the health budget to boost medical services especially at the grassroots in partnership with the state governments who are expected to make a 5% counterpart contribution.”
The Minister recalled, “as Governor of Anambra State, I developed a special medical incentive package to draw doctors to the rural communities by establishing the Rural Doctors Programme where officers posted to the rural health facilities got additional 25% of their basic salary as special allowance.
“The Nigerian Medical Association should ask their members who in most cases are Health Commissioners in the States and by implication members of National Council on Health to evolve and execute such policies so as to maximize the benefits which it provides.
“The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) State chapters and National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) have a duty to campaign and persuade State governments to devote more funds to healthcare. Doctors’ union is not only for the purpose of personal aggrandizement, asking for more emoluments and perennially egging members to go on strike.
“Therefore, while the Federal Government, indeed, government at all levels strives to meet up with the World Health ratio of one doctor to five hundred patients, we appeal to the Nigerian Medical Association to prevail on their members to serve in the rural areas.
“An on-going programme by the Federal Government, the statement added will in near future, revive and revitalize all the basic health centres in all the wards across the federation.