- Nigeria must address the challenges leading to migration of its doctors
For a country with an acute shortage of medical doctors, media reports that 10,000 – 15,000 doctors have left the country in search of greener pastures overseas is troubling. Dr Mike Ogirima, President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), who revealed this added that between 40,000 and 60,000 doctors are currently working in the country. A top member of the association was quoted as saying that in 2015 alone, 715 doctors left Nigeria. “Annually, the number of Nigerian doctors departing the country to work abroad ranges between 500 to 700”. In April, over 500 doctors took examination for possible recruitment placement abroad.
“Their final destination is, however, the United States (U.S.), which offers them better remuneration and welfare package. For these Nigerian doctors working in the UK, Canada and other countries, including the Caribbean, is a stepping stone,” the source said. The fact that not many people can watch helplessly as their patients die due to lack of working tools compounds the migration. Indeed, the frustration has made many doctors to abandon medicine for more rewarding ventures while some are not even keen on renewing their registration.
The trend is particularly worrisome because the exodus means more workload for doctors in the country. Whereas the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended one doctor to 600 patients, the doctor-patient ratio in Nigeria is one to 4,250 patients! Nigeria may not be the only country in Africa with such a huge doctor-patient ratio deficit; its case is worsened by the fact that it is a country with enormous resources unlike some African countries. Cuba has the best doctor-patient ratio – one to 170; the United States is one doctor to 390 patients and Australia, one doctor to 400.
It is sad that the exodus of Nigerian doctors which gained momentum in the late 1980s is worsening rather than abate. The issue back then was usually about low remuneration and lack of working tools. Indeed, in 1983 when the soldiers sacked the then Shagari administration for corruption, one of the major issues adduced for the coup was that our hospitals had become “mere consulting clinics”.
It is regrettable that not much has changed since then. An evidence of this is the inability of many doctors who graduated for the past three to four years to get suitable health facilities as placement for residency training because most of the state hospitals do not meet the criteria for the programme. There is also the problem of non-payment of salaries for months. Indeed, the environment is too hostile for comfort.
We join stakeholders in calling for a better welfare and improved working conditions for doctors to check the dangerous trend. Many Nigerians resort to quack doctors while many turn to alternative medical practitioners, many of whom are not competent to practice. Many people simply turn to their churches for miracle healing.
Our governments must rise to the occasion. Hospitals should have constant electricity supply, water supply as well as basic equipment to treat patients. Doctors must be well remunerated for the special service they render. Many of our hospitals need upgrading; they should be upgraded. We have seen that there is nothing wrong with our doctors as they are in hot demand outside the country. What they lack are the necessary tools to work with. These should be provided.
Our efforts to reduce costs on medical tourism will come to naught if we continue to neglect the health sector. A situation where the country continues to lose its young and bright doctors to other countries can only compound our health challenges in the future. We must make concerted efforts to redress the situation.