A disclosure the other day by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire that the Federal Government would employ the services of foreign medical doctors has expectedly come under fire by concerned Nigerians. The plan, which is being pushed under the pretext of curbing medical tourism is misguided and should be terminated forthwith.
The embarrassing proposal is not what the people expect the government to do at this stage given the poor and debilitating condition of healthcare in the country. Besides, no foreign doctors would accept to work in our ill-equipped hospitals that Nigerian doctors are running away from. From all indications, the government has not thought through this bizarre idea that should not have emanated from Africa’s richest and most populous country.
The minister who made the disclosure during the 2020 budget defence session said the move would strengthen the nation’s health sector without saying how it would be feasible.
According to Ehanire, officials of the ministry were in touch with foreign embassies for specialists who would work in hospitals across the country for specified periods.
At a time when Nigerian doctors are leaving in droves for foreign countries in search of better conditions, it is unfortunate that government is mulling the importation of specialist doctors from Europe and United States as if there are no specialist doctors in Nigeria.
It needs to be re-stated that the solution to the burgeoning medical tourism by Nigerians is not by importing doctors from abroad but by equipping our hospitals appropriately with the right medical personnel in place. The right atmosphere must be created as a step towards stemming the trend. Constant electricity, for instance, is a sine qua non. Foreign doctors will not work in darkness when they arrive.
The need for an improved healthcare system in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised. A lot has been written on this important subject even by this newspaper. Specifically, all the issues involving healthcare provision in Nigeria stem from the insufferable poor health infrastructure and funding.
Otherwise, every other critical need for world-class medicare is available in the country. Nigeria is blessed with some of the best medical doctors in the world. And they are working in some of the best-equipped medical centres in the world. Their records of breakthroughs are available to the government. They always talk about them when it comes to the rhetoric on Nigeria’s endowments. In other words, most of our best medics are out there in foreign countries where the conditions are better. The poor healthcare infrastructure, in particular, coupled with poor remuneration of doctors is responsible for the mass migration of our medical experts.
The other day, it was reported that a personal doctor to Mrs. Hilary Clinton, the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate in the 2016 race is a Nigerian doctor by name Oladotun Okunola.
This newspaper has repeatedly noted that there are many other Okunolas out there in the diaspora, who could have been serving in the country if the conditions were suitable. Poor facilities in our healthcare facilities are a serious setback. Only a purpose-driven and robust funding can attract the best physicians home. It is therefore curious why that is not being pursued, especially now that our leaders are being criticised daily for trooping abroad for even minor ailments.
Without being prodded, the government ought to recognise that the country is in trouble if there is no adequate healthcare for the teeming population too. There is a need for a re-calibration of the healthcare system for efficiency in serving the population.
This is to be seen as a matter of leadership. Who is at the helm of affairs in the health ministry is critical. But behind any successful health minister, there is a committed and visionary leader driven by a political party’s philosophy of service delivery.
We recall that the former Minister of Health, Olikoye Ransome Kuti, raised the nation’s healthcare delivery to a historic world standard through his primary healthcare programme that attracted international attention. Many international agencies supported the programme. UNICEF vehicles and personnel were found everywhere in the country, especially, in the rural areas implementing different aspects of the programme. That lofty programme has been destroyed through underfunding and poor attention by our elected but irresponsible leaders at all levels.
It is, therefore, a reproach that wealthy Nigerians and our public officers continue to flock to foreign countries to seek medical help while the poor are condemned to avoidable deaths. That is a sad commentary for a country that is supposed to be a model for Africa.
The need to raise the benchmark for funding of the health sector is critical and that is the starting point. Certainly, the thought of importing foreign doctors at this juncture is a wild goose chase as a result of many constraints. A huge amount of money is involved. The poor budget of the health sector that is less than the one for water resources cannot withstand this pressure when it is juxtaposed with conditions of service for medics in Europe and North America government is targeting.
Statistics from the British government shows that Nigerian medics constituted 3.9 per cent of the 202 nationalities working alongside British doctors and nurses. Reports further indicate that many more Nigerian doctors could join the migration because the UK is in need of medics from the Commonwealth countries, as doctors from the European Union (EU) were leaving following the Brexit challenge.
Also, figures from the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), show that about 45,000 doctors were practising in Nigeria at present with some 12 per cent of the 45,000 doctors or 5,405 practising in the UK. The implication of this revelation is that Nigeria is left with only 40,000 doctors, excluding those working in the U.S., South Africa, Saudi Arabia and others. This is grossly inadequate for a population of about 200 million people.
Lest we forget, Nigeria’s leader whose wife just returned from a medical vacation in the United Kingdom is at this moment in London for medical check-up, although they curiously told us it is a private visit. Specifically, President Muhammadu Buhari has spent 242 days in the United Kingdom alone since 2015 on health grounds that could have been handled at home if the facilities were available. That is why it will be some blight on his record, if the cock crows at the dawn of May 29, 2023 his exit date, without some well equipped national hospitals at home where our people and leaders can be examined and treated.
So, Nigeria’s leader should return home from November 17 to set up the machinery to improve the general condition of medical practice in the country, instead of allowing recruitment of foreign doctors that we can’t afford.