Abuja — President Muhammadu Buhari has lamented the human resources needs of Nigeria's healthcare system, saying the mass exodus of doctors from Nigeria is real and worrisome.
The President stated this on Tuesday at the second National Health Summit organised by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in Abuja with the theme: "Patient-Centred Care"
President Buhari, however, said the Federal government is interested in opening up conversations with medical practitioners with a view to addressing the situation.
This is even as NMA President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, stressed that the exit of doctors from Nigeria has is not all negative as the country's economy and the people benefit from the activities and investments of Nigerian doctors practising abroad.
Therefore, the NMA advocated a balanced approach to tackling the problem.
Represented by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, the President said: "Nigeria's Health Human Resources needs are real. We have a situation where human resource experts, trained and skilled at great cost to the notion, (roughly estimated by the Nigeria Postgraduate Medical College at N70million per Fellow, are lost to our health system by migration to already Developed countries.
"Today, we are experiencing the migration of medical doctors to postures some may consider being greener. This is worrisome to stakeholders in the health sector and we welcome practical suggestions for finding solutions to this problem.
"The Federal government would like to open up a conversation with doctors and nurses, to study ways of retaining our skilled workforce, trained at great expense to the State, as determined by the Postgraduate Medical College.
"We still have much need to strengthen our highly specialized Human Resource for Health for expanded healthcare delivery. The Federal Ministry of Health will work with the State and Local Government to encourage the creation of a conducive environment for healthcare professionals to practice and thrive."
President Buhari added that the Federal Government is testing a programme known as the Diaspora Healthcare Initiative with a view to scaling up the capacity of the healthcare workforce by the transfer and exchange of cutting edge knowledge and skills, and also patient management expertise of Nigerian Diaspora workforce, to colleagues at home
Speaking on the deepening human resource crisis in the health sector, NMA President said Nigeria retains less than 60 percent of her medical graduates.
Faduyile said: "7 in 10 Nigerian trained doctors are either out of the country or on their way out. Up to 80 per cent of newly graduated doctors are looking outside after graduation. Consequently, this worsens the doctor-patient ratio. The trend is also applicable to the pharmacists, nurses and other health care providers who reliving this country in droves.
"Today, we have Nigerian doctors who after staying abroad and acquiring skills are coming back to Nigeria. Some are visiting periodical to undertake surgical missions. Some who emigrated are still practising abroad and contributing a lot to the economy of this country. So, we must also look at the benefit of brain-drain.
"It is important we appraise and address the push and pull factors in brain-drain; on one hand, and the positive that comes with skill repatriation in order to strike a balance in favour of effective healthcare delivery."
In his Keynote speech, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa called for an urgent transformation of Nigeria's healthcare system from the traditional medical approach to the patient-centred approach, saying "We may not be able to rapidly improve our healthcare system and health outcomes until we are able to ensure that a greater percentage of Nigerians can access healthcare without having to pay out-of-pocket.
"Fifteen years down the road, we have had the National Health Insurance Act without an appreciable impact among our people. The enrolment numbers are low and limited more to the federal workforce (currently under 10% coverage).
"Considering the high level of unemployment and poverty in the land, my honest view is that it is truly difficult to initiate a transformation to Patient-Centred Care model when basic access to care and affordability is a challenge.
"However, all hope is not lost especially in primary care as the National Health Act has enabled the introduction of the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund. The fund, if properly used, and augmented by State Governments will increase access, affordability, and functionality of our health system, particularly at the primary care level.
"In Delta State, our Contributory Health Commission legislation passed into law in February 2016 has witnessed an enrolment figure of over 650,000 persons as of September 2019 in our health insurance scheme.
Also speaking, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, bemoaned the challenges of the health sector, urging the NMA to look inwards and collaborate with stakeholders towards achieving needed transformations.
"The theme of patient-centred care is apt at a time like this when more healthcare consumers feel alienated from the providers and would rather visit a Babalawo, a spiritual healer or a juju man than a qualified medical practitioner for consultation," Gowon said.