Brain Drain and the Sordid Realities Behind Nigeria’s Ironical ‘Surplus Doctors’

Daniel Whyte
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Recently, the media has been awash with criticisms of Senator Chris Ngige, the Minister for Labour and Employment, over his declaration that Nigeria has surplus doctors hence medical practitioners seeking greener pastures are free to leave the nation.

While commenting on brain drain in an interview with Channels TV, the senator who is a medical doctor had, on Wednesday, specifically said he wasn’t worried about the recruitment of Nigerian doctors by foreign embassies being detrimental to the health sector of the nation while emphasizing the fact that the nation has surplus doctors.

“If you have surplus, you export. It happened some years ago here. I was taught chemistry and biology by Indian teachers in my secondary school days. There are surplus in their country and we also have surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. In my area, we have excess”.

“Who said we don’t have enough doctors? We have more than enough. You can quote me. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out. When they go abroad, they earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil”, he had said.

This has however sparked several public condemnations and outcry especially from concerned bodies and respective individuals mostly medical practitioners who suggested that the minister had spoken from the position of an ignorant politician who doesn’t know about the goings-on in his nation.

Similarly, fact checks which identified the statement as false have also been ran and reported by several media outlets which also affirm the stark reality of brain drain in terms of shortage of medical personnel which plague the nation as a result of their mass departure.

For instance, it is widely known that Nigeria violates the WHO recommendation of one doctor to six hundred patients.

As revealed by Premium Times “Nigeria had over 39,000 registered medical doctors in 2017 according to official data from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN)…this implies that with an estimated population of 193 million as of 2016, Nigeria had one medical doctor to about 4,845 citizens, less than 20 per cent of the WHO recommendation”

Brain drain refers to the drastic and debilitating loss of human resources in a nation as a result of their mass migration or relocation to seek greener pastures in foreign climes.

Brain drain as a consequence of migration of the human resources of a country is usually more often than not precipitated by the ugly trend of unemployment, low or lack of job satisfaction, poor working condition, poor or inadequate health facilities (for medical practitioners) among others.

As a result, the country at the losing end, suffers insufficiency in manpower and required labour which may have drastic effects on the economy as well as the educational, social and health sector of the society.

The receiving country on the other hand enjoys brain gain as the immigrant lured by pull factors such as good economy, good working condition and an endless list of achievable desires joins the work force thereby boosting the nation’s economy and inevitably developing the nation.

Nigeria has therefore had to lose many of its skilled and resourceful citizens — particularly doctors among others as a result of unfavourable working condition. More worrisomely, this loss is on a continuous basis.

Among others, Nigerian doctors emigrate to the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

According to a report published by Premium Times, “in 2018, research by Africa Check showed that at least 12 doctors leave Nigeria for the UK every week.”

In addition “according to the UK General Medical Council, which has records of doctors in the UK, 5,250 Nigerian doctors were working in the UK as of April 25, 2018”, the report reads.

Similarly, as culled from a report by Sahara Reporters, “an investigation shows that Nigeria has about 72,000 licensed and certified medical doctors. However, 35,000 of the figure are only practising in Nigeria.”

This was similarly affirmed by a poll conducted by NOI Polls which shows that the country has 72,000 doctors while only 35,000 is practising in the nation.

By implication therefore since Nigeria’s population has risen to 197 million according to World Bank the 35,000 doctors available in the nation now have to work in a ratio of one (1) doctor to 5,628 people as against the 4845 of 2016.

As a result of this vivid shortage, doctors are often overworked and poorly treated in terms of remuneration among others.

For instance, in an interview with Leadership Newspaper, the Immediate Past President, ARD-LASUTH, Dr. Ajibola Salami, said “doctors have been overworked at LASUTH because there is shortage of manpower. Imagine only one doctor currently working at the chest unit of the hospital. He has nobody to replace him. One of our members collapsed while on duty, because he had worked for two straight weeks, with nobody to replace him”.

Although, hours after he received several backlashes, the minister had come out to say in a statement released by Nwachukwu Obidiwe, his media aide, that he was misquoted and that what he meant was that, doctors were free to seek professional training elsewhere if there are insufficient space in the country.

He said “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.”

“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”, the statement further reads.

“Even where some of these doctors are bonded to their overseas 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”, he added.

However, he emphasized that there are enough doctors to handle non-specialist areas in rural areas but that the problem is no one is interested in going there as “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 centers especially those owned by the Federal Government find it difficult to work in the rural hospitals”.

In all, the trend of mass migration of professionals from the country should be abated or rather reduced so that the health sector of the nation doesn’t inevitably collapse.

Contrary to the initial claims of Chris Ngige, brain drain or the shortage of medical professionals in the country is particularly worrisome. Nigerian government should try as much as possible to address the root and surface causes which have led to the migration of these professionals.

There is no doubt, that if the government fixes the sector, many migrant doctors will repatriate to either start up their own or join existing organisations and many more may have no reason to consider migration. Thereby, affecting the nation positively.


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