24 April 2019
The minister for labour, Chris Ngige, who is also a doctor, said on national television last night that it was not a problem that Nigeria was losing many doctors, who migrate in search of greener pastures, every year.
He said: “No, I am not worried. We have surplus. If you have surplus, you export. It happened some years ago here. I was taught chemistry and biology by Indian teachers in my secondary school days.
“There are surplus in their country and we also have surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. In my area, we have excess.
“Who said we don’t have enough doctors? We have more than enough. You can quote me. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out. When they go abroad, they earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil.”
As if this wasn’t enough, on further probing about a “brain drain” of doctors, the minister said: “Brain drain will only be inimical when for instance neurosurgeons travel and we don’t have neurosurgeons here.”
Watch Ngige’s show of shame below.
What is shocking is that Ngige is a doctor and should have some awareness of the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of a doctor to population ratio of one to 1,000. It is estimated that there is one doctor to every 6,000 Nigerians.
The WHO also states that: “Critical shortages, inadequate skill mix and uneven geographical distribution of the health workforce pose major barriers to achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).” They argue that: “Countries that fall below this threshold struggle to provide skilled care at birth to significant numbers of pregnant women, as well as emergency and specialized services for newborn and young children. This has direct consequences on the numbers of deaths of women and children.”
The WHO called for: “A comprehensive approach, supported by strong national leadership, governance and information systems, is needed to ensure skilled, motivated and supported health workers in the right place at the right time. For example, national authorities may focus on rapidly increasing the outputs of education and training programmes, along with measures to improve recruitment, performance and retention of workers – especially in rural and underserved areas..”
This call has fallen on deaf ears with people like Ngige in government. Many well-off Nigerians fly abroad at the slightest sign of illness, including Ngige’s boss, President Muhammadu Buhari. They have little interest in improving healthcare outcomes for ordinary Nigerians by stemming the brain drain of doctors. According to some estimates, about 2,000 doctors have left Nigeria over the past few years. Doctors have blamed the exodus on poor working conditions – only four percent of Nigeria’s budget is allocated to health. A recent poll indicated that about 88% of doctors in Nigeria are considering relocating abroad.
Last month, hundreds of Nigerian doctors gathered at a hotel in Abuja, the capital, and another in Lagos, the country’s commercial centre, to take a recruitment test conducted by the Saudi Arabian health ministry. Onwufor Uche, a doctor based in Abuja told Al Jazeera: “It has become worse; a doctor [in Nigeria] earns 200,000 naira monthly ($560), necessitating moving to countries where they can be better paid for their services … This ultimately means that eight of 10 Nigerians are presently receiving substandard or no medical care at all.”
Then UK health secretary, Jeremy Hunt said in 2016 that there were 4,153 doctors trained in Nigeria working in the UK’s National Health Service. Many Nigerian deaths from treatable diseases would have been prevented if Nigerian governments improved working conditions for doctors, making it attractive for them to work in Nigeria.
Sadly, the welfare of ordinary Nigerians has never been the priority of those in power, including the likes of Chris Ngige, whose comments make him a disgrace to his medical profession. Reacting to his comments, a UK-based Nigerian doctor said: “Seriously, is this guy really a medical doctor? How did he get into medical school in the first place?”
Ngige’s comments shouldn’t really come as a surprise when the health minister, Isaac Adewole, a professor of medicine, said in September last year that not all doctors should specialise, some could become farmers and tailors.