Nigerian healthcare professionals who lived and worked abroad but are back have urged their colleagues still in the diaspora to come back and develop the nation’s health sector.
The returnees made this call at a conference organised by Nigeria Health Watch in Abuja on Thursday.
The theme of the future conference was “The diaspora as Nigeria’s brain gain”.
The conference was aimed at changing the narrative in the health sector where health workers are migrating from the country in droves.
In recent times, the narration in the national health sector is the mass exodus of Nigerian health workers especially doctors in search of greener pastures outside the country.
This has also affected the ratio of health workers to patients in Nigeria. Many have left due to poor remuneration, poor facilities and working condition, and job dissatisfaction.
In spite of this negative news, the returnees say they have come back to help improve the nation’s health system.
The conference also provided an opportunity to get firsthand narration from the returnees of their experiences abroad.
Speaking on his experience since he came back to Nigeria after years of practicing abroad, Olujimi Coker, the Chief Medical Director, Lagoon Hospital, Lagos said “getting to settle and establish in Nigeria though can be challenging but is very rewarding at the long run”.
Mr Coker who had spent over ten years aboard said coming back to settle in Nigeria after working abroad is not for the fainthearted.
He said irrespective of the challenges facing the health sector, there are still opportunities for those coming back to thrive.
Mr Coker said “for doctors in diaspora who come into the country to lend their expertise and then go back is not a sustainable way of development.”
He said though it is good that the nation is working towards achieving Universal Healthcare Coverage, it is also very important to emphasise on quality healthcare as well.
“There is a word missing for us in UHC, it should be universal (quality) healthcare coverage. We need to develop standards for our hospitals for Nigeria by Nigerians. It should also be an internationally accepted standard.
He also spoke of his unique experiences coming back.
“… there will be dearth of referrals from colleagues, it was not like that when I was coming home for five years and taught in almost all major teaching hospitals. I had interfaced with almost all of them, they (colleagues) knew my skills and I have done difficult cases with them, but when I decided to come back and the referrals stop coming. It was different then because I was not seen as a threat,” he said.
He said though for almost six to nine months, he was not doing what he wanted but eventually he overcame the challenges.
Another returnee, Atinuke Uwajeh, a consultant pediatrician who also spent about 20 years abroad said it was good to “go outside the country get trained but when your training ends please come back and use if to contribute to the health system”.
She said the country should no longer be “talking about brain drain but brain gain especially from people coming in from abroad”.
She also said many older and mature health workers who have been working abroad are preparing to come back home.
“The reoccurring phase (from friends and family) was that we wish you are here in Nigeria. Because of that I made a very cautious decision to relocate to Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora, at the event, said the government is also interested in getting Nigerians to come back to the country.
Mrs Dabiri-Erewa, who was represented by Badewa Williams, an educational therapist, said the Nigerian government is targeting over 200 investors at a maiden diaspora investment summit to be held soon.
She said the government is targeting sectors such as the healthcare, agriculture, education, hospitality and tourism, infrastructure and real estate, environmental remediation among others.
“Though the Nigerians in diaspora are remitting over N22 billion into the nation through formal channels, the effect is rarely seen. At the end of the summit, we hope to come up with feasible and realistic investment plans and avenues for all diasporans coming to Nigeria,” she said.