The Nigerian Medical Association, the National Association of Resident Doctors, the Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project and human rights groups on Wednesday took a swipe at the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, over his comment that the country had enough medical doctors.
Ngige, had on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Wednesday, said doctors who felt they wanted to relocate in search of greener pastures were free to do so as the nation had enough medical personnel.
Ngige had, while responding to a question on brain drain and the deliberate recruitment of Nigerian doctors by foreign embassies in Nigeria, said there was nothing wrong with doctors leaving the country as they would continue to send foreign exchange home which would, in turn, grow the economy.
“No, I am not worried (about doctors leaving the country). 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.
“Who says 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 it back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil.”
When asked if he was sure of what he was saying, the minister said it was good for doctors to travel out as they would receive training from abroad and open up medical centres in Nigeria.
“Will you call that brain drain? I know a couple of them who practise abroad but set up medical centres back home. They have scanners and magnetic resonance imaging, which even the government cannot maintain. So, I don’t see any loss,” he said.
When asked if brain drain was not hurting the health sector, he said, “Brain drain will only be inimical when for instance neurosurgeons travel and we don’t have neurosurgeons here.”
But in separate interviews with our correspondents, the NMA president, Dr Francis Faduyile and his NARD counterpart, Dr Segun Olaopa, said Ngige did not have the knowledge of the World Health Organisation’s recommendation on doctor-patient ratio.
Nigeria not bothered about citizens’ health – NMA
The NMA president said Nigeria had no enough doctors, stressing the need to ensure the country retained its medical personnel.
Faduyile said Nigeria fell behind in the WHO’s doctor/patient ratio recommendation, while questioning the minister’s understanding of the health sector challenges.
“That is an unfortunate statement which shows that he has done nothing in medical practice. The WHO stated that for optimal health care to be achieved, we need doctor/patient ratio of one to 600. In Nigeria, we have 40,000 doctors taking care of 200 million people.
“It is unfortunate; we do not have enough doctors. Maybe he is looking at the monetary part but there is the opportunity cost. He says it will generate revenue when the doctors bring back money. But that is coming at the expense of our people that are dying daily because of lack of facilities in the health sector to take care of simple ailments and complex ones like cancer.
“Nigeria has a maternal mortality rate that is about the highest in the world. To correct it, we need more health professionals around. Now that Ngige says they are free to go, it means that he missed the point. Africa’s head of states met in Abuja and declared that at least 15 per cent of annual budgets should go to the health sector. Nigeria has never gone beyond six per cent since 2001. The current budget gives about 3.8 per cent to health. You can see that Nigeria has no interest in taking care of its citizens.”
Some states owing doctors 10 months’ salaries, says NMA President
The NMA president alleged that in some states, doctors had not been paid for 10 months while in others; the total number of doctors employed was less than 40.
“There are states that have not employed doctors. We have states that have fewer than 50 doctors in their health sector and some have not paid doctors for 10 months. There is a state where over 80 doctors resigned because the state did not take care of their welfare.
“The populace is docile and that is why someone will come out and say we have more than enough doctors. It will take Nigeria 15 years to have adequate number of doctors and that is if none of them leaves the country.”
Faduyile stated that Nigeria had one of the highest infant mortality rate in the world.
“We have one of the highest maternal mortality rate. Our life expectancy is one of the lowest among the comity of nations. These are the direct effect of poor health care management,” he stated.