The relentless influx of wealthy Nigerians to foreign countries seeking medical care is a national embarrassment of intense proportions, while the poor are left with no choice but to likely die. It is a sad testimony for a country supposed to be a model and an example on the African continent, especially since the authorities seem unfazed by this atrocious phenomenon.
According to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigerians spend over $1 billion a year on overseas health insurance; and this has a negative impact on the country’s health system. Moreover, at different times, President Muhammadu Buhari had lamented that the country was losing hundreds of billions a year to medical tourism.
According to the medical profession, this is due to the brain drain, which aggravates the depletion of health resources in Nigeria and widens the gap in health inequalities in the world. The health sector challenge in Nigeria has become a bad ulcer thriving on the medicine of exodus of doctors occasioned by harsh working conditions, poor pay, deteriorating facilities, insecurity and harsh economic realities.
Essentially, the Nigerian health sector today is groaning under the devastating impact of a massive human capital drain which is now manifesting as a brain drain. It is therefore unfortunate that even in Africa’s supposedly largest economy, doctors no longer see a bright future on the country’s shores as the working conditions are pathetic and unbearable.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sub-Saharan Africa has about 3% of the world’s health workers, while it accounts for 24% of the global burden of disease. At present, Nigeria has a doctor to population ratio of around 1:4000-5000, which is well below the WHO recommended doctor to population ratio of 1:600. It is an understatement to say that there is a deficit of doctors in this country to serve the more than 200 million inhabitants.
Yet some time ago Minister for Labor and Employment Dr Chris Ngige reportedly said doctors who wanted to move to other countries in search of greener pastures were free to do so. , saying Nigeria had enough medical personnel to meet the needs. population. This suggests poor data management or poor knowledge of realities. In fact, the Saudi Ministry of Health last year held recruitment exercises for Nigerian doctors.
The low doctor-patient ratio in the country is regrettable and should be of concern to authorities at all levels of governance. Yet, there is no indication that the country’s leaders are about to respond to the reproach as they resort to medical tourism instead, as most of the country’s leaders, including the president, still travel abroad to get themselves. treatment, an unacceptable situation in a country that once boasted one of the four best teaching hospitals in the Commonwealth.
The indifference of the country’s officials to its challenge of the health sector, which dismisses the fact that the exodus of doctors is at the expense of the lives of Nigerians, is a paradox turned into a tragedy. The more doctors leave this country, the higher the maternal and infant deaths and the very low life span and life expectancy. In addition, the poor results of the treatment of the disease can be worrying. This may explain why Nigeria is still struggling with worrying health indices.
Based on the brain drain plaguing the sector, it is evident that skilled health professionals are needed in all parts of the world. Thus, government at all levels should seize the opportunity to reverse this trend, because when health professionals lack opportunities for professional development, lack an enabling environment to operate, cannot fully utilize their skills and find that the quality of their life is dismal compared to their peers in more advanced countries, they have no choice but to flee abroad for greener pastures.
So, until Nigeria places the utmost importance on health care, the exodus of doctors will not stop. Therefore, the government must take health care seriously and make it a major priority given its crucial importance to the lives of citizens. As this journal has always noted, the value of budget proposals for health needs to be dramatically enhanced.
In fact, health care requires remarkable investments, not just increased funding. Better investment can translate into higher compensation for health workers, increased training opportunities for doctors, and the availability of equipment and other infrastructure.
There is an urgent need for government at all levels to inspire confidence and show commitment to improving health services by enacting the necessary laws capable of increasing funding to the sector and ensuring that funds are properly managed to save the country’s health infrastructure. and personal.
Better political commitment to health care; a better appreciation of the value of medical personnel, as well as better and competitive salaries; better working conditions and an inspiring working environment; better security and better access to social facilities; attractive and globally respected postgraduate training programs for health workers will not only stabilize the health care delivery system, but also stop the current brain drain.
It is also curious that most of our leaders who campaigned to stop foreign medical tourism for public servants in the previous administration failed to deliver on their promises by investing heavily in health facilities. Leaders should stop lamenting, but act now to reverse this ugly trend of Nigerian doctors going abroad in search of greener pastures.
Nigerians expect President Muhammadu Buhari, who has spent so much time in the UK for health reasons, to set his personal example, execute the change he promised against overseas medical tourism in 2015 and strengthens local health facilities for the benefit of the Nigerian masses.