Nigerian doctors proffer solutions to ‘brain drain’ in health sector

File photo of Resident Doctors
File photo of Resident Doctors

To put an end to ‘brain drain’ in the health sector, the Nigerian government has been advised to provide more funds, emoluments and incentives for medical practitioners.

Nigerian doctors were also advised to participate more in politics so as to change policies affecting them. They were also advised to take on entrepreneurship and more profitable businesses.

These are some of the solutions proffered by medical experts as ways to reduce the mass exodus of Nigerian doctors to other climes.

The experts spoke during the opening ceremony and scientific conference of the Association of Resident Doctors’ 2018 Annual Health Week held on Wednesday.

The movement of skilled workers internationally represents ‘brain gain’ for the countries that reap their skills and experience and ‘brain drain’ for their countries of origin.

There has been a reported massive brain drain in the Nigerian health sector in recent years as many medical doctors are leaving the country,daily.

Nigerian doctors have been migrating to U.S, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the UK and many other nations across the globe.

It is estimated that at least 12 Nigerian doctors leave the shores of this country to practice overseas, weekly.

Ekpe Phillips, the chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Abuja Branch, in his lecture at the event, advised the government to emulate the concept used by India to bring back their medical professionals who migrated to other countries.

“India was able to conquer brain drain because they offered an interest free loan to all their medical professionals abroad,” Mr Phillips who was the guest speaker of the event, explained.

“The loan was for them to establish whatever facility of their dream in their country. The (Indian) government also provided incentives and conducive working condition and their doctors came home. Today, India has joined the list of countries in brain gain! They make a whole lot of money in medical tourism.”

Health Sector Collapse

Mr Phillips warned that if brain drain continues unchecked, it will lead to the collapse of the nation’s health sector.

“This exodus is continuously increasing. We produce 1600 doctors every year and 1200 are leaving the country. With the number of doctors getting old and retiring, you see there is no replacement which is a big problem that might lead to collapse of the Nigerian health system if not tackled.”

The NMA official also raised alarm on internal brain drain currently ongoing in the country. “Most doctors move from places such as Borno to the FCT, where they consider a more conducive environment. This is internal brain drain which should also be checked.”

While brain gain represents migration of intellectuals from other countries, health experts say the return of Nigerian doctors practicing abroad should be considered a brain gain for the country.

In his lecture, Edward Ogundaye, a health entrepreneur and activist, said more attention should rather be paid on curbing the trend of health experts leaving the country.

A poll conducted in August 2017 by the Nigerian Polling Organisation, (NOI) in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch found that for over 90 per cent of medical doctors intend to seek employment opportunities abroad because of low job satisfaction, poor remuneration and high deductibles from their salaries.

Mr Ogundaye, the managing director of Supreme Med-tech, said the way out is for doctors to go into private practice and entrepreneurship.

“The influence of the government is more or less irrelevant to the health sector. So the way out is for doctors to go into private practice and partnerships. When medical profession is practiced as a private business, you will see it will be managed with utmost attention,” he explained.

Mr Ogundaye also urged medical professionals to go into politics so as to influence policies that affect them such as raising funds, incentives and good working conditions.

Change in Nigeria’s medical curriculum

The president of the Resident Doctors Abuja Chapter, Michael Olarewaju, while addressing journalists after the event, stressed the need for a change in the curriculum for students in the medical profession.

“There is need for a whole paradigm shift to take place. The medical council has to design a curriculum for entrepreneurship for student doctors so when they leave school, they will have an idea of how to run the profession as a business venture.

“When I was in school I was only taught of how to treat patients but nobody taught me how to do business with the profession or even make money off it. We have to design the curriculum in business management. The medical practice in Nigeria should be restructured.”

The government is worried about this trend of mass exodus and brain drain in the health sector, the minister of health, Isaac Adebowale said during an interview on Wednesday evening with PREMIUM TIMES.

“This is why President Muhammadu Buhari asked the national security adviser to chair an inter-ministerial panel on how to check brain drain and turn it into brain grain”, the minister explained.

A previous Investigation by this newspaper showed that while relevant medical agencies in Nigeria could not provide official data on emigrant doctors, a statistics from General Medical Council (GMC) UK, as at July 2017 reveals 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.

SPECIAL REPORT: Anxiety as Nigerian doctors leave country in droves

Official records reveal that Nigeria currently has one doctor to 3,500 patients in the country, which is a far cry to the WHO recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients.

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