If you would like to know how blessed Nigeria is with talents, although absent from the country of their birth, then walk into a hospital in the United Kingdom. There is every likelihood the doctors that will look after you are Indians, Pakistanis or Nigerians. Among Africans working in the health sector in foreign countries, without doubt, Nigeria leads the way. It is actually interesting that there is a famous hospital in London that charges exorbitant amount for its private services, and a large portion of the patients are Nigerian officials, who ran away from the Nigerian hospitals, only to come to the UK and be treated by Nigerian medical doctors that have been trained at ABU, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos or Bayero University, Kano.
Brain drain is certainly an issue today, whether the victims did it by choice or by coincidence. An interesting research conducted by Professor Nkechi Mbanefoh on the effect of brain drain on the University College Hospital, Ibadan suggests that of the 640,000 professionals working in the United States of America, medical doctors from Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan and Ghana constitute about 120,000. Writing in a paper entitled “The Brain Drain and Retention of Health Professionals in Africa”, Dr Delanyo Dovlo, a Ghanaian Consultant who once worked in Leeds as a medical doctor has explained six key reasons for the migration of medical doctors to foreign countries. The reasons are income or good salaries, job satisfaction, organisational environment, governance and administrative efficiency, protection and favourable environment against occupational risk, and social security and benefit.
The issues mentioned are not beyond the capability of African countries; unfortunately African leaders prefer health tourism over investment in the health sector that will look after their interest and those of their people. Despite this challenge, there is something positive that can come out of this brain drain. We have seen how professionals both in the healthcare sector and other sectors of the economy have contributed in transforming the economies of China and India. And to date, these two countries exploit the advantage of their skilled population living in diaspora to improve their economy.
But another perspective to it is that the doctors themselves can use their expertise and make maximum impact especially in the rural areas where access to healthcare remains problematic. This brings me to some of the effort by some charities like the Nigeria Muslim Forum, UK www.nmfuk.org and Africa Healthcare Development Trust http://www.ahdt.org/ to provide free healthcare service to some rural dwellers in Nigeria. In just two days, the joint effort of these two charities treated about 3000 patients in Kibiya Local Government of Kano, state. A total of eleven doctors from the UK and Nigeria where able to do this within such short period.
So what are the lessons to be learnt from here, and how can our highly talented medical doctors carry this forward? The first lesson is that medical doctors working in countries like Britain and the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have an immense opportunity because of training, favourable working environment and access to modern equipments. They can at least even if once in a year volunteer some of their time to do some voluntary work in their localities to help the poor and the needy.
Secondly, which I think is as important as the services they provide, is pursuing the transfer of skills whenever they visit home. I always appreciate how our colleagues work in Nigeria in the most difficult circumstance. A single day workshop, not necessarily on the technical side of the job, but for instance on work ethics will change a lot of things. As some of our colleagues in the health sector normally tell us, part of the problem of the healthcare system in Nigeria, is not necessarily lack of equipments or qualified personnel, but it is simply attitudinal. For instance does a Consultant sit and ponder the effect of his action if he refuses to come to the hospital on time, but instead starts the day in his private clinic, and then come to the public hospital and spend one or two hours. What message is he sending to do the junior doctors that look up to him as a role model?
Thirdly, although an individual effort is good, working collectively as a group will make tremendous impact. Just imagine, if one medical doctor from the UK, working with other colleagues in Nigeria can treat 3000 patients in two to three days, imagine the impact a team of 20 twenty doctors can make with proper coordination and team-effort.
Fourthly, another advantage the doctors in diaspora have is access to charities that provide healthcare equipments and drugs at a highly subsidised rate. In fact some hospitals do give some these equipments free to their staff. So if each medical doctor from Nigeria working in diaspora can identify a registered charity that works in his locality back home, and volunteer his service once in a year or every two years, imagine the impact that could make on the healthcare system in Africa.
It is very easy to sit and criticise the government for failing in its responsibility. But each one of us can make as much difference within his area of specialisation as the government could do within its capability. Over to you.
*Dr. Yusha’u (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former staff of the BBC, teaches journalism at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England. He is a weekly columnist for PREMIUM TIMES