Imagine how the Nigerian Health Sector will be in six months if over 5,000 health workers, practicing aboard decide to return home to save the face of the nation. To save the global irony, the health workers are called one of the best in the world, yet their country is responsible and bears the worst global burden of almost all the diseases globally.
By Ndidi Chukwu
So much have not been said about the life of a Nigerian Health worker. They are one of the most patriotic citizens Nigeria has at the moment. They save lives every day despite being made to work under a very poor condition compared to what is available to their health counterparts in developed countries.
Currently thousands of Nigerian Health Workers leave the country to seek greener pastures, where they can be paid better, appreciated and respected for the services offered. The implication of this migration further worsened the physician-patient ratio in Nigeria from 1:4,000 to 1:5,000 patients per day contrary to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended 1:600.
The physician-patient ratio in the U.K. is 1:300. Report by General Medical Council (GMC) UK, as at July 2017 shows that over 4,765 Nigerian doctors are working in the UK. This is 1.7 per cent of the total of the UK’s medical workforce the fall back is the dearth of human resource for health in Nigeria accompanied by poor service delivery.
Figures from the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) suggest that about 45,000 doctors are currently practicing in Nigeria. This means that 12 per cent of 45,000 Nigerian doctors, that is 5,405, are practising in the U.K. and the country is now left with less than 40,000, excluding those practising in the U.S., South Africa, Saudi Arabia and others.
A cursory look at the funding of Nigeria’s health sector shows that the government has vehemently refused to implement the Abuja Declarartion and WHO recommendation of not less than 15% budget allocation to health. The country is ranked 187th among the 191 United Nations member states in 2000. Health budget has not gone beyond 6% since 2001 it made the declaration amongst other countries.
The one huge negative impact of poorly funded and managed health sector is lack of good working condition for health professionals which worsen brain drain. Rivalry among health workers make the sector an intense space for one to work and strive to survive and be able reach the peak of their career.
The question yet to be answered is whether the government allowed the nation’s health system to remain ‘unmanaged’ for the professionals who ought to work together to continue in rivalry, or migrate out of their own country where they ought to work in and save lives, so that billions of naira will be spent annually on medical tourism?
The hope to salvage the situation is for an immediate strategy to lure these Nigerians back home, to return and give back to the nation the experiences it has gathered. Imagine how the Nigerian Health Sector will be in six months if over 5,000 health workers, practicing aboard decide to return home to save the face of the nation. To save the global irony, the health workers are called one of the best in the world, yet their country is responsible and bears the worst global burden of almost all the diseases globally.
Beyond making financial gains, passion to save lives and patriotism is what the country needs right now. The Nigerian Health Watch 2018 “Future of Health Conference” brought the likes of Dr Olujimi Coker, Fatima Kyari, Adeyemi Johnson, Atinuke Uwajeh, Ukwuori-Gisela Kalu, Temitope Erogbogbo, Chumy Nwogu, Douglas Emeka Okor, and many more medical personnel who have lived and worked abroad yet returned to Nigeria and have made great impact, contributing to salvage the health system in one room to discuss the gain in brain drain.
Dr Coker, who returned to Nigeria in 2009 after 20 years as a surgeon in the UK NHS shared heart worming experience about his return to work in Nigeria at the Future of Health Conference 2018 he summed it up by citing concerns around poor quality and the ability to continue to deliver high standards of care as key issues facing healthcare professionals abroad wishing to return to work in Nigeria. Emphasizing the need for tertiary hospitals in Nigeria to rise to the challenge of improving their standards of care, he identified family support as essential for any planned move back as making the transition back to Nigeria is never easy.
The conference was indeed a great moment for health workers, the returnees shared knowledge and expertise gained from the Diaspora and how they have used such knowledge to save lives, yet the young health workers say they would rather travel, learn and return to be relevant.
“Forget all the talk, I have to work abroad first, return and be relevant in Nigeria’s health sector. This is because our health system is poorly managed, we do more theories than practical, and reason is due to lack cutting edge technology for health in Nigeria.” A newly inducted medical doctor who gave his name as Kola told a circle of friends, At the end of 2018 Future of Health Conference which looked at “the Diaspora as Nigeria’s Brain Gain”
Like Young Dr Kola the reason why most Nigerian Health workers never return is the fact that they choose to stay and make more money than living the passion that drives a health worker to save life, may be unrecognized efforts and sacrifices by the hospital management is also a huge factor.
“The Government Factor”
A strong take away point from the conference and why over 6,000 Nigerian health workers living abroad may never return is the harsh economic environment, it is hard to set up a business, no tax waivers, the Ministry of Health and health professional groups harass returnees with levies for the years they worked out of the country.
Participants were made to know the hard conditions these returnees have had to work on to be able to have a Public Private Partnership to support the health system.
Bearing in mind the invaluable impact “Brain Drain for Brain Gain” could have if Nigeria must attain at least 60% Universal Health Coverage by 2030, the government through the Federal Ministry of health must be more innovative and find a way to lure these Nigerians back home.