• Plan will curb medical tourism, says minister • Stop brain drain first, stakeholders advise
Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said yesterday that Nigeria would employ the services of medical experts from Europe and America.
The disclosure came at a time that some stakeholders are expressing concern about the migration of health workers from the country.
Ehanire said officials of the ministry were in touch with foreign embassies for specialists who would work in hospitals across the country for specified periods.
The minister, who stated this during the 2020 budget defence session, said the move would strengthen the nation’s health sector.
He was responding to a question from a member of the Mrs. Tolulope Akande Sodipe-led House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Matters about plans for curbing medical tourism.
Ehanire said the experts, already exposed to sophisticated practice in the advanced world, would not only attend to the health needs of Nigerians but also use the opportunity to share expertise with their local counterparts.
There are equally plans to make indigenous consultants and surgeons spend some time abroad and come back to improve the Nigerian healthcare system, the minister said.
He maintained that the country’s teaching hospitals were adequately equipped and manned by experienced and qualified doctors but noted that more work needed to be done to build the confidence of Nigerians on the facilities.
The minister added that the sector requires more funds to also create an enabling atmosphere for Nigerian experts in the diaspora to return and render free services to the homeland.
In a reaction, president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, queried the plan to bring experts from abroad.
He told The Guardian: “Is it the four per cent budgetary allocation for health? Is it the equipment that is not there and is not working? Where will they work with empty seats and chairs at most hospitals? The health minister needs to tell himself some truth. No doctor in the Diaspora will want to come back under the present circumstances. The health system is not functioning optimally and we have to fix it and prevent brain drain before thinking of attracting doctors practising abroad.”
Also faulting the idea, a former president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Olumide Akintayo, said: “I hope this is not connected with the plans to sell all the teaching hospitals and federal health institutions in the name of privatisation? We should be thinking of how to improve the conditions of service of health professionals in the system and stem brain drain. The plan by the minister is unfortunate and ill-advised. I am sure that all health workers except the doctors will reject this plan. This is not what we need now.”
In a 2018 report on why medical personnel were leaving the country, The Guardian noted that about 5,405 Nigerian-trained doctors and nurses were working with the British National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK).
The figure, released by the British government, meant that Nigerian medics constituted 3.9 per cent of the 137,000 foreign staffers of 202 nationalities working alongside British doctors and nurses.
The investigation showed that many more Nigerian doctors could join the migration because the UK needed medics from Commonwealth countries, since some doctors in the European Union (EU) were reportedly leaving because of Brexit.
It was gathered that most of the Nigerian doctors and nurses were leaving because of better conditions of service and that the migration worsened the physician-patient ratio in the country from 1:4,000 to 1:5,000, contrary to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended 1:600. The physician-patient ratio in the UK is 1:300.
Figures sourced from the NMA showed that about 45,000 doctors were practising in Nigeria at present. This meant that 12 per cent of 45,000 Nigerian doctors (5,405) were practising in the UK and the country was left with fewer than 40,000, excluding those working in the U.S., South Africa, Saudi Arabia and others.
Consultant public health physician, Prof. Akin Osibogun, had said the brain drain could be reversed if the Federal Government made the National Insurance Scheme (NHIS) compulsory for all citizens. According to him, this would provide enough funds to improve the conditions of service and working environment for health professionals.
He added: “The few ones we have are leaving because of poor conditions of service, working environment and after service package. It means the physician-patient ratio has worsened, maybe from 1:3,000 to 1:5,000. When you compare, those countries that have better physician-patient ratio have better treatment outcomes.
We need to make working conditions attractive. If they know they will have a house after 20 years of training, the lure to leave would be reduced. What are the benefits attached to the job? What are the provisions for the doctor’s family? What are the long-term prospects for the staff?
“We need to improve the work environment in terms of financing. Make it work-friendly, not crowding 10 persons in one office. Talk about electricity supply; you come to work and you are scheduled to do a surgery but there is no electricity. We need to be more drastic; re-organising the way we fund health service. There should be compulsory NHIS that will bring a pool of funds. We have to adopt a more holistic approach.”