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Addressing exodus of doctors abroad

By Maria Famakinwa

The recent revelation by United Kingdom that over 7,000 Nigerians doctors are plying their trade in the country, couple with the ongoing visa on arrival policy by UK to medical practitioners from other countries is a wake-up call to the federal and state governments to act fast in order to prevent mass movement of Nigeria health practitioners abroad if only to save the country’s health sector from imminent collapse.
The Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, while answering a question on how the government can prevent Nigerian doctors and health workers from running to the UK based on the ongoing visa on arrival policy said that the salary of health workers in the country was poor, compared to other parts of the world, which motivated them to go abroad for better offers, but maintained that it was not the right time for Nigeria to experience brain drain of medical doctors and other health personnel
It would be recalled that the President of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Aliyu Sokomba revealed weeks ago that no fewer than 14 members of the association have lost their lives in the line of duty during the fight against COVID-19 across the country. Likewise, health workers in the country at different times have appealed to federal and state governments to come to their aid by paying their hazard allowances and give them tools to work with to protect them against contracting COVID-19 and other diseases.
Some of the medical practitioners who spoke with The Hope gave reasons why health workers migrate to other countries to include better facilities and work environment, higher salaries, career progression, improved quality of life among others.
On what to be done to prevent health workers from seeking greener pastures abroad, a medical doctor, who did not want his name in print explained that the major reason why doctors are living the shore of this country was due to poor working conditions. The man who lamented that poor working conditions exposed health workers to preventable risks especially at this time of coronavirus outbreak causing deaths of some health workers. He blamed the federal and state governments for citizens’ health challenges.
His words,”More than half of patients seeking visas to India and other countries are going for medical care that is not available in the country. Indigent Nigerians are left at the mercy of the dilapidated health infrastructure. If a doctor gets a good hospital and atmosphere to work in, he will stay, no matter the salary. I am not aware of a good hospital where they have a good set up and doctors walk away.
”Doctors are train to manage patients, investigate, make diagnosis and treat. You get frustrated when week in, week out, you cannot investigate the patients or when the patient you are investigating cannot afford your treatment and eventually die. No medical doctor can be happy under these working conditions. Let federal and state governments increase yearly budget of health ministry and be sure that the money allocated are not diverted. Doing this will give the health ministry a face lift and encourage health workers to stay in the country.”
The doctor also advised the federal and state governments on post graduate training. He said that there is increasing awareness that for you to be good as a doctor, you must specialized which he added can be achieved through more training institutions. ”If we expand the hospitals and get more people trained, doctors will be discouraged from going abroad. Let the government invest in public hospitals, facilitate loans for private hospitals to expand as it is done in some countries and set up those who will monitor how the loans will be spent and make them payable over years.”
Another doctor, who also crave anonymity hinted that Nigeria will continue to lose its health workers to other countries unless federal and state governments see them as important and treat them as such. He said, ”As we speak, most health workers are on strike because the government refuse to pay their allowances. These are the front line workers who risk their lives for others to survive. Some died on the line of duty, yet, government deny them their benefits and allowances. If this nonchalant attitudes of government to health workers continue, many of us we still leave the country.”
On how to prevent health providers from living the country said,” the government know what to do if they are ready. Presently, we have less than 35,000 doctors across the country serving a population of over 200 million. Good percentage of Nigeria doctors live and work abroad and some are planning to go with the recent visa on arrival policy of UK government. The only solution is better remunerations. If medical doctors are highly paid, it will be a booster to them and discourage them from seeking greener pastures in foreign land”
Sharing a similar sentiment, a nurse, who simply gave her name as Ms Damilola, revealed that some of the nurses who died in the line of duty was due to the fact that they were not adequately protected. ”Most of us attend to patients without Personal Protective Equipment which ought to be provided by government. Despite making promises, nothing has been done. It is only in this country that you will see government politicising the health of her citizens. For health workers to be on strike because of unpaid hazard allowances tell of a country that jeopardize the citizens’ well beings.
”Let me also inform you that some highly placed Nigerians who were reported to have died after contracting coronavirus, died due to some underlined ailments which the lockdown prevented them from travelling abroad to continue the treatments. I think this is enough lesson for the Federal Government to equip our health sector to guide against preventable deaths. If our health sector function the way it should, most Nigerians will not be seeking medical treatment abroad and it will help our economy. The state of our health sector is pathetic and need urgent attention.
”If I get a better offer in another country, I will also go because most of us are not happy with the way government is handling our welfares. Our lives are also important and our rights should not be denied. What is the faith of the families of health workers who died in the cause of duty when those who are still alive, working 24 hours are yet to be paid?.Let government give attention to our needs and equip the hospitals, that is when we will be convinced that we are being appreciated and needed to stay in the country.’’

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