Chris Ngige has reversed his comment that Nigeria has 'surplus doctors' and he was, thus, not worried about Nigerian doctors leaving the country to go practice in other climes.
After public condemnation, the labour minister alluded to Nigeria falling short of the World Health Organisation's benchmark ratio of one doctor to six hundred patients, saying he was misquoted.
He however maintained that every other thing he said was an "existential reality, useful and constructive fact."
Speaking on Channels Television's Sunrise Daily on Wednesday, Mr Ngige had said Nigeria has more than enough doctors to cater for its health needs and can even export.
The comment drew rage from many Nigerians, especially medical professionals who have been struggling to tackle the challenge of 'brain drain' in the health industry.
"No, I am not worried... we have a surplus... "If you have a surplus, you export... ", Mr Ngige had said while responding to a question regarding Nigerian doctors who wished to relocate their practice abroad.
He did not provide any evidence to back his claim.
While Nigerians on social media questioned the minister's understanding of the health sector, experts said the minister spoke from a position of ignorance and a "politician that doesn't understand what is going on."
A previous check by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Nigeria had over 39,000 registered medical doctors in 2017 according to official data from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).
This implies that with an estimated population of 193 million as of 2016, Nigeria had one medical doctor to about 4,845 citizens, less than 20 per cent of the WHO recommendation.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the minister rephrased his position on the issue in a statement Thursday signed by Nwachukwu Obidiwe, his Special Assistant on Media.
"... Apart from Nigeria's non-compliance with the World Health Organisation's ratio of one doctor to six hundred patients of which I was misquoted.
"Every other thing I said in that interview is an existential reality, useful and constructive facts which every Nigerian that watched the full interview will hardly dispute.
"I invite opinion moulders especially those who have spoken or written on this issue to watch the full clip of my interview with the channels.
"And it is for this reason that I admitted having a little cause to worry about brain drain among medical doctors."
Why doctors are leaving - Ngige
The minister explained why doctors are leaving the country.
Nigeria at present does not have enough health facilities to "accommodate all the doctors seeking to do tertiary specialist training (residency) in the teaching hospitals, federal medical centres and few accredited state and private specialist centres in the country."
He said roughly 20 per cent of the yearly applicants were being absorbed while the remaining 80 per cent tried their luck elsewhere.
"Most of these rejected applicants usually throng the Federal Ministry of Health and that of Labour and Employment to complain of being illegally schemed out."
PREMIUM TIMES reported last year the high rate of failure by foreign trained medical students in the assessment examination conducted by the MDCN.
Of the 501 medical students that sat for the examination conducted last April at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital in Kwara State, only 132 of them passed.
Many of the students complained of being deliberately failed by their supervisors, a claim denied by the organisers. This prompted the Nigerian government to direct the council to investigate the phenomenon.
The statement explained further that what the minister meant was that these professionals had the right to seek training abroad to sharpen their skills and become specialists.
"They later turn this problem to a national advantage when they repatriate their legitimate earnings and later return to the country.
"Even where some of these doctors are bonded to their overseas training institutions, examples abound on the large number of them who have successfully returned to settle and establish specialist centres across the country.
"It is, therefore, a question of turning your handicap to an advantage", the minister said.
He explained that the Ministry of Labour and Employment had a migration policy, developed with the European Union to assist skilled Nigerians to work and earn decent living abroad.
He also noted that the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora had done a lot of work in encouraging Nigerian professionals abroad to return.
"Luckily, the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and Employment is developing a federal assisted programme for these young doctors and other allied health professionals such as pharmacists, physiotherapists in a move to broaden training opportunities," he said.
Internal Brain Drain?
The minister insisted that Nigeria has enough medical personnel to man non-specialist centres in the rural areas.
He however said the major problem was "the refusal of young doctors to work in the hinterland.
"Even the National Youth Service Corps doctors, all, today seek postings to the cities as against what obtained some decades ago.
"Besides, doctors who did not get the few vacancies in the tertiary centres especially those owned by the federal government find it difficult to work in the rural hospitals."
This poor doctor to patient ratio in Nigeria has been attributed to 'brain drain'.
The movement of skilled workers internationally represents 'brain gain' for the countries that reap their skills and experience, and 'brain drain' for their countries of origin.
PREMIUM TIMES reported last year that there has been a massive brain drain in the Nigeria health sector as doctors leave country in droves.
It is estimated that at least 12 Nigerian doctors leave the shores of this country to practice overseas, weekly.
Statistics from the General Medical Council (GMC) of the UK, as at July 2017 revealed that over 4,765 Nigerian doctors are working in the UK. This is 1.7 per cent of the total of the UK's medical workforce.