24 April 2019

Nigeria: Despite Official Data Stating Otherwise, Ngige Claims Nigeria Has 'Surplus' Doctors

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(file photo).

Despite official data showing that Nigeria 'gravely' lacks an adequate number of doctors, a minister has claimed otherwise.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, as of 2013, showed there were about four doctors for every 10,000 Nigerians (one for 2,500), far below the organisation's recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients.

Also, according to official data from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) as of December 2017, Nigeria had over 39,000 registered medical doctors.

'Not true'- Minister

However, Nigeria's labour and employment minister, Chris Ngige, claims the country has 'enough' medical doctors to attend to the needs of Nigerians.

He, however, did not provide any evidence to back his claim on this.

Mr Ngige made the declaration on Channels Television's Sunrise Daily on Wednesday.

Mr Ngige's comment is coming weeks after Saudi officials stormed Nigeria to recruit medical doctors.

PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported how experts spoke during the scientific conference of the Association of Resident Doctors in 2018 on ending 'brain drain' in the health sector.

Similarly, the chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Abuja Branch, Ekpe Phillips, in his lecture at the 2018 event advised the government to emulate India by bringing back its medical professionals who migrated to other countries.

"This exodus is continuously increasing. We produce 1,600 doctors every year, and 1,200 are leaving the country. With the number of doctors getting old and retiring, you see there is no replacement, which is a big problem that might lead to the collapse of the Nigerian health system if not tackled," he said.

Background

There has been a massive brain drain in the Nigerian health sector in recent years.

Nigerian doctors migrate periodically to the U.S, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the UK and other nations. It is estimated that at least 12 Nigerian doctors leave the shores of this country to practice overseas, weekly.

The minister of health, Isaac Adewole, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES in 2018 said the government is worried about the trend.

Research shows that between 2017 and 2019, medical doctors in Nigeria embarked on industrial actions on numerous occasions.

Most of the issues always centre on salaries, upgrade of health facilities, and general welfare.

In 2018, research by Africa Check showed that at least 12 doctors leave Nigeria for the UK every week. According to the UK General Medical Council, which has records of doctors in the UK, 5,250 Nigerian doctors were working in the UK as of April 25, 2018.

The Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) embarked on a six-week strike in 2018 to press home its demands bordering on improved healthcare facilities, welfare and other demands.

As JOHESU called off its strike, the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) threatened to embark on another strike.

Funding

Experts say funding could be the root cause of the problem.

The budget provisions for the health sector for three years have not met with the standards of the Abuja Declaration Act of 2001 in which African Union countries agreed to allocate at least 15 per cent of their annual budget to health.

Nigeria hosted the Heads of State of member countries of the African Union (AU) in 2001 who made the "Abuja declaration". The leaders pledged to commit at least 15 per cent of their annual budgets to improve their health sector.

Since the declaration, Nigeria has not attained the pledged funding benchmark.

The highest percentage since the declaration was in 2012 when 5.95 per cent of the budget was allocated to health.

In 2018, only N269 billion of the N8.6 trillion budget was allocated to the health sector.

In 2019, the government proposed a recurrent expenditure of N 315.62 billion for the ministry of health in its 2019 appropriation bill which is about 46.3 billion increase from 2018 recurrent expenditure.

The 8th Senate also took a step towards ensuring adequate funding for the health sector in 2018.

The 8th Senate approved one per cent of the consolidated revenue fund for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) in the 2018 budget -- This is the approval in the annual budget since 2014 when the fund was created.

Ngige's words

Meanwhile, Mr Ngige said he is not worried about doctors leaving the country because "there are enough doctors".

When asked by the presenter to comment on the brain drain in the country and if the deliberate recruitment of Nigerian doctors by foreign embassies is detrimental to the nation's health sector, the minister said, "No, I am not worried about doctors leaving the country, we have a surplus.

"If you have a surplus, you export. It happened some years ago here. I was taught chemistry and biology by Indian teachers in my secondary school days. There is a surplus in their country, and we also have a surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. In my area, we have excess," he said.

According to him, "I know a couple of them who practise abroad but set up medical centres back home. They have a CAT scan, MRI scan which even the government cannot maintain. So, I don't see any loss.

"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."

Mr Ngige said brain drain would only be inimical "when, for instance, neurosurgeons travel and we don't have neurosurgeons here".

To verify Mr Ngige's claim on TV, Dubawa and PREMIUM TIMES contacted him via telephone for his evidence backing his claim.

He, however, did not respond to calls and text messages sent to him on this subject.

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