By Claire Nwachukwu
The emigration of medical and health workers from Nigeria has been on the increase in recent years, with no obvious efforts to manage or mitigate the negative impacts of this growing trend on the already weak health system. This mass exodus is undoubtedly damaging and causing a serious obstacle in the health sector of Nigeria, at least in preventing the health sector from achieving more health for more people. Going forward, strategic approaches and multi-sectoral collaborations will be required to address this medical brain drain in Nigeria. These efforts should be targeted at not just the health sector but should also include the social and economic aspects of the lives of resident doctors, to improve their living conditions.
It is a pity that doctors, even in Africa’s largest economy, no longer see the rosy future of practicing here in the country, as working conditions are becoming more miserable and also intolerable. Nigeria medical Association (NMA) said, between 2016 and 2018, Nigeria had lost over 9,000 medical practitioners to the United Kingdom and Canada alone.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the doctors- population ratio in Nigeria is currently around 1: 4000-5000, this is way below the WHO recommended ratio of doctors-population which is 1: 600. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a shortage of doctors in the country to cater for the country’s huge population. It is a pity that the ratio of doctors–and-patient in the country is low and the Nigerian authorities at all levels should be greatly worried. Judging from the brain drain that has plagued the healthcare sector even despite Nigeria’s existing health burden, doctor’s migration is on the rise and this is unlikely to stop as Nigerian doctors continue to look for better working conditions abroad, thus resulting in the shortage of health workers.
Professor Innocent Ujah, the president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) revealed publicly that this loss has currently left Nigeria with only 4.7 per cent of medical experts to meet the health needs of people. This has not improved the health conditions in the country. This has not improved the health conditions in the country. It has led to increased stress levels of medical practitioners. The more stressful a doctor is in his work, the more he feels burnout and feels stressed about their jobs, the further they feel burned out and defeated by the health care system and this in turn reduces his motivation to improve both himself and the patient’s condition.
The main reason many doctors are leaving is due to the lack of enough funding and also, the mismanagement of funds in the health sector. In 2021, the medical cost allocated accounted for only 7% of the total budget. This is less than 15% agreed by WHO with the African leaders in 2001. Honestly, the outflow of doctors will not end until Nigeria starts paying higher premiums for medical care. Good and effective medical care is very important in our everyday life, therefore, the government needs to treat health care issues as a matter of urgency and give it a higher priority.
Apart from the need for increment in the funding of the health sector, health care also requires a large investment. Better investments can lead to higher rewards for healthcare professionals, availability of health care equipment as well as other infrastructure services and better training opportunities for physicians. The government at all levels needs to ensure that funding is properly managed to meet the needs of the public as well as save the health infrastructure.
There is an urgent need to show willingness to improve health services and by doing so, better working conditions and conducive environment, political commitment to health care, higher evaluation of medical staff along with better competitive wages, higher security and access to social facilities. Fully sponsored eye- catching and globally recognized continuing education programmes for health care professionals will definitely stabilize the health care system, and also stop the current brain drain of medical workers in Nigeria. It is now becoming obvious that migration cannot be stopped but can be managed by improving factors beyond the healthcare sector such as the living condition, access to education, improved wages, and welfare for public servants.
As things stand now, a lot has to be done in order to achieve SDG 3 which aims at ensuring healthy well-being by 2030. However, an increase in the number of healthcare workers especially on a ratio basis means improving the health capacity which is an integral part of achieving SDG 3.
Nwachukwu writes from the Centre for Social Justices (CSJ), Abuja, Nigeria.