Nigeria, like many other countries, is grappling with a pressing issue that poses a significant threat to the delivery of quality health care: a depleting health workforce. The shortage of skilled health care professionals has reached a critical level, adversely impacting the country’s ability to provide essential medical services to its population. Urgent measures are needed to address this crisis and secure a healthier future for all Nigerians.
The current situation is alarming. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum threshold of 4.45 health care workers (doctors, nurses, and midwives) per 1,000 people to achieve adequate health coverage. In Nigeria, however, this ratio stands at a staggering 0.77 health care workers per 1,000 people, which is significantly below the recommended level. This severe shortage undermines the effectiveness of the health care system, leading to increased morbidity and mortality rates, particularly among vulnerable populations.
Several factors contribute to the depletion of the health workforce in Nigeria. First, there is a significant brain drain phenomenon, where trained health care professionals seek better opportunities abroad due to factors such as inadequate remuneration, limited career advancement prospects and challenging working conditions. This brain drain deprives Nigeria of valuable expertise and leaves health care facilities struggling to meet the needs of their patients.
A study done in South Africa showed that the main reasons health professionals migrated were corruption, personal and family safety, poor infrastructure, and their children’s future.
To address this issue, the retention of health care workers should be prioritised in the national planning process. Incentive packages, better work environments, team training and opportunities for career advancement can improve job satisfaction and develop.
To address this critical issue, a multi-faceted approach is required. The Nigerian government must prioritise health care workforce planning, allocating adequate resources to recruit, train and retain health care professionals. Investment in medical education is crucial, with a focus on modernising curricula, strengthening teaching facilities and providing scholarships and grants to encourage more students to pursue careers in health care.
Addressing the depleting health workforce in Nigeria requires a long-term commitment and concerted efforts from the government, health care organisations, educational institutions and international partners. Adequate funding, effective policies and sustainable strategies are vital components of a comprehensive plan to attract, retain and support health care professionals.
By investing in the health care workforce, Nigeria can ensure that its citizens receive quality medical care, reduce the burden of diseases and make significant progress towards achieving universal health coverage. The time for action is now. And through collaborative efforts, Nigeria can overcome the challenges it faces and build a robust and resilient health care system that meets the needs of its people.
Victor Okeke wrote from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Abuja