EARLIER in August this year, the Saudi Arabia government sent its agents to Abuja, our nation’s capital, to recruit Nigerian doctors. The Muhammadu Buhari regime saw it as a slap on its face.
It sent a posse of security operatives to halt the exercise. But in a twist of logic, the Minister for Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, claimed that medical specialists were free to emigrate as Nigeria had enough doctors.
It did not stop him from advocating, during his 2022 budget defence on November 10, 2021, for a compulsory nine-year service for all Nigeria-trained doctors before they would be allowed to emigrate.
It has become obvious even to the Minister that he was wrong to claim we have enough doctors. For more than 40 years, medical doctors trained in Nigerian institutions have been steadily migrating to the USA, Canada, the UK, European Union and the Middle East where they enjoy much better conditions of service such as higher pay and access to adequate tools and technology.
Today, some of the most respected doctors in America and Canada are Nigerian-trained personnel.
It is interesting to note that the number of doctors in Nigeria, though still painfully inadequate, boomed during the much-bashed previous administrations preceding Buhari’s. The World Health Organisation, WHO, for instance, reported that there were 34,923 doctors in Nigeria in 2003. But by 2016, it had swollen to 83,565, only to drop to 74,543 in 2018, a loss of about 9,000 doctors.
The increased neglect of our health sector has been evidenced by the uptick of strikes by the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, and other medical sector workers, even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Doctors who work for the State and Federal Governments have complained bitterly about months of unpaid salaries and allowances which they now describe as the “hunger virus”.
One would have thought that a leader like Buhari who has suffered great health challenges for which he regularly travels abroad for treatment would make it a personal goal to fix the system. Unfortunately, even the Aso Villa Clinic which receives the lion’s share of annual appropriations “cannot treat malaria”, as the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari, once lamented.
With this situation, it is not surprising that any doctor or nurse who gets the opportunity to travel out of the country grabs it with two hands. As long as we continue to pay lip service to social services like education and health, the brain drain will continue.
The entire health sector suffers neglect at state and federal levels. Unless we adopt a massive financial turnaround package at both levels and invest in equipment, welfare, training and general upgrades in conditions of service, the situation will only get worse.