Buhari’s lamentations over the brain drain in the health sector
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed a sore point for many Nigerians when he lamented the brain drain in the country’s health sector, admitting that the exodus of doctors and nurses from African countries of the West was detrimental to the needs of the citizens. Speaking at the virtual inauguration ceremony of the African Medical Center of Excellence (ACME), a hospital project implemented by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in partnership with the federal government, Kings College Hospital, London; University of Winsconsin Teaching Hospital, USA and Christies Hospital, Manchester and expected to significantly transform the health sector in the West African sub-region, Buhari observed that the problem of inadequate health facilities had been further exacerbated by the major brain drain experienced by the continent. As he noted, the flight of doctors and nurses to other continents has resulted in a significant gap between the treatments required for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and the treatment and care available. In his view, a stronger partnership with the private sector would help improve facilities and access to health care in the country.
The president said that in addition to providing comprehensive care in the three areas of intensive care, AMCE, a specialized facility with 500 beds, is expected to provide services in the areas of oncology, cardiology and l hematology and address the significant shortage of clinical care options in the West African sub-region, would provide educational services to develop talent and establish itself as a world-class research center. He said: “The success of AMCE will pave the way for future investments and partnerships in the sector while raising the local level of health care and providing a model of quality of services required to meet health and economic challenges. from Nigeria and Africa. AMCE represents a return to basics and the understanding that there is no African development agenda without able-bodied Africans to execute our vision of transformation.
Buhari is indeed right that the growing burden of NCDs coupled with inadequate medical infrastructure on the continent threatens the future of the West African people, as many hospitals in the region are underfunded, under-equipped, under-equipped. -effective and relatively inaccessible to most patients, especially in rural areas, and that these challenges combine to create a regional health market with limited access to essential services and a low perception of the quality of care available. It is indeed an alien from Mars who would dispute Buhari’s claim that the brain drain has created a gap in the provision of quality medical care in Africa, and that international partnerships such as those represented by the AMCE project would to a large extent address some of the health needs of the West African sub-region. But the crucial question is what Buhari and his colleagues in the sub-region are doing to address the challenges that exist. In Nigeria, it is a fact that since the return to civil status in 1999, public hospitals have struggled to transcend the limits that have prompted the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, to qualify them of “simple consultation clinics”. While efforts have been made to renovate and re-equip universities over the years, including the Olusegun Obasanjo administration’s plan to give university hospitals a facelift, these efforts have been rare and below average. So, having correctly identified what the problems are, President Buhari must describe the steps he hopes to take to resolve them. Unfortunately, this has not been done to date.
In recent editorials, we have had the opportunity to deplore the mass exodus of doctors and nurses from Nigeria due to poor working conditions. Amid the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, the Republic of Saudi Arabia has recruited Nigerian doctors ready to transfer their services to the country, leaving Nigerians in a difficult position. Worse yet, although the country is severely understaffed in the health sector, Dr Chris Ngige, Minister of Labor and Employment, once shamelessly said the country had nothing to fear as it there were enough doctors! Speaking on a TV show responding to a question about the brain drain and the deliberate recruitment of Nigerian doctors by foreign embassies in April 2019, the minister, himself a doctor, claimed that Nigeria has 350,000 doctors, far more than the 260,000 that he says the World Health Organization (WHO) prescribes for the country. His words: “I am not worried about the departure of the doctors from the country. We have a surplus. If you have a surplus, you export … We have a surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. “
But the then president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr Francis Faduyile, refuted Ngige’s claim. Faduyile said Nigeria has 75,000 registered doctors, of which only around 40,000 are practicing in the country. For his part, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has often failed to adopt a conciliatory tone in the face of the demands of the striking doctors. So it’s safe to say that the official federal cabinet response to the welfare of healthcare professionals in the country is weak. If the government does not consider it a priority to work hard to retain health professionals in the country, then there is no point in dissipating energy on the brain drain rhetoric. Certainly no one can fault the country’s health professionals for wanting a better life, and neither can other countries be faulted for employing them if they are qualified and they (these countries) need it.
The above should not lead anyone to conclude that the problems of the health sector are those of central government alone. The point is, subnational governments haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory in this regard. There is therefore a need for demonstrable change at all levels. Those who cannot guarantee this do not have to take political office.