By Chioma Obinna
The exodus of Nigerian medical doctors to other countries for what they described as ‘’greener pastures’’ has continued for decades.
This has led to an acute shortage of health professionals in the nation’s health sector.
Reports have shown that about two-thirds of Nigerian doctors who leave the country end up practising medicine in foreign countries while some of them switch professions.
It is no longer news that apart from the medical doctors, other healthcare professionals such as the nurses, pharmacists among others are also leaving the country for overseas practice, thereby depleting number of professionals in the sector.
Recently, data from the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, MDCAN, had revealed that over 139 Consultants left 17 hospitals within two years. Sadly, no state is spared with the North having a larger proportion among these centres.
The number is about 10 per cent of the actual figure all over the country.
The MDCAN data also showed that the total number of doctors that have migrated to the UK in two years were nearly 9,000 while the total in the United States, US, is about 3,895.
The data in the MDCAN archive added that Saudi Arabia and Canada are competing seriously with UK and USA. Even South Africa is in the forefront of enticing health workers into its health system. Findings have also shown that about 344 are in Trinidad and Tobago.
Also, there are over 8,000 nurses that have left for the US and UK within the last two years.
In Lagos alone, an average of two doctors per hospital is leaving every three months, while nurses are leaving monthly.
According to the National President of the MDCAN, Dr Victor Makanjuola, the mass migration has caused significant disruptions to the Nigerian healthcare ecosystem.
Another survey conducted by the Nigeria Health Watch and NOI Polls showed that Nigeria has a deficit of qualified doctors and needs at least 237,000 doctors to ensure the population’s health needs are adequately catered. It also showed that 88 per cent of doctors are considering work opportunities abroad due to reasons such as better facilities, work environment, higher salaries, career progression and improved quality of life.
With a population of over 200 million, one doctor in Nigeria attends to over 5,000 patients compared to the World Health Organisation, WHO, recommendation of one doctor per 600 patients, the situation has continued to put the health of Nigerians at risk.
The worst hit, are Nigerians in the rural areas as over 70 per cent of the medical doctors practice in urban areas, leaving the rural areas where majority reside.
Today, the country is faced with ‘‘brain drain’’ syndrome, and this has plagued the country for years now. For Nigeria to combat brain drain in the health sector as well as provide quality services for the populace, the situation ought to be reversed urgently with practical and effective policy.
For a country faced with several disease outbreaks including coronavirus, Lassa fever, Bird Flu, malaria, Maternal and infant mortality, cholera, and the health system near collapse, losing more health workers to developed countries becomes double jeopardy.
The nation’s health system is also afflicted by several factors such as underfunding, dilapidated infrastructure, underpaid professionals among others.
These may be the reasons the federal government is trying to hold down the older medical professionals who are unlikely to leave easily through its decision to grant new retirement age for workers in the sector.
Unfortunately, government has failed to address the implementation of the upward review of the retirement age of health workers which has further heightened irreversible damage to the nation’s health security.
According to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, under the new condition of service, the retirement age of health workers will be increased from 60 years to 65 years while the retirement age for medical consultants is placed at 70 years.
When this extension of the retirement age for health workers is implemented, it would help replace the younger medical professionals and other health workers who are leaving in droves. It will also reverse medical and health workers training which has almost collapsed in Nigeria.
The retirement age extension should be based on the fact that the older professionals and more experienced hands are unlikely to leave the country and more likely to remain in service to continue offering services to the system as younger doctors and other health workers are leaving in droves.
Again, these categories of health workers serve as the backbone to ensure that quality service is reasonably sustained.
The older professionals also serve as a last resort when the chips are down. They do not only help continue training but also provide rare clinical expertise. Their absence or exit will finally collapse the hospitals,