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Mass exodus of doctors must stop

Last Tuesday, Daily Trust reported that an estimated 500 Nigerian doctors had turned up at a recruitment fair in Abuja organized by MEED Consultants on…

Last Tuesday, Daily Trust reported that an estimated 500 Nigerian doctors had turned up at a recruitment fair in Abuja organized by MEED Consultants on behalf of the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health. Similar exercises for recruiting Nigerian doctors by the Saudi health ministry, according to the report, were scheduled in Abuja and other cities across the country throughout that week. It is not clear if these held or not.

According to the report, the Saudi Ministry is targeting Nigerian doctors and consultants with specialties in anaesthesia, Intensive Care Unit (ICU), paediatric surgery, family medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, Ear Nose and Throat (ENT), emergency medicine, as well as all sub specialties of surgery, internal medicine, and similar areas of medical practice.

One of the prospective recruits at the event, a pediatrician who spoke with Daily Trust reporter, observed that “there are more than 500 specialist doctors here wanting to leave the country and they are coming from various teaching hospitals, federal medical centers and specialist hospitals. So Saudi Arabia wants the best for her people, the officials come here, collect the best from Nigeria, and put them in their hospitals for their people to benefit from our expertise.”

Lamenting the situation, another doctor at the fair, a gynaecologist, said that “We cannot really survive where Mr President goes out of the country for medical treatment, while for the past ten months now, most of us have not been paid, and those who are paid are paid half salaries.

“I need to take care of my family. Why is the government not taking care of the health sector? After going through rigorous training for six years, it is not worth it to come out struggling to feed your family. I have been working 48 hours at a stretch with nothing to show.”

That this specific recruitment fair held at a time that the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) was on strike was particularly grating for many Nigerians. In fact the doctors have been on strike for about two months.  But fairs for poaching our doctors by the Saudi Ministry of Health in particular are not exactly new. Indeed, according to the website of the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas (ANPA), for example, there are “4,000 plus physicians, dentists and allied health professionals of Nigerian birth, ethnicity or empathy in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean”. Recent news reports similarly indicate that there are over 7500 Nigerian doctors and allied health professionals practicing in the United Kingdom.

More worrisome still, in a 2017 national poll by NOIPolls in collaboration with the Nigeria Health Watch, 88 percent of the medical doctors interviewed said they were considering work opportunities abroad, for the same reasons of poor pay and even poorer working conditions cited by the two prospective recruits in the Daily Trust story above. These reasons are not as convincing as they appear. We are not convinced by these reasons. Nigerian doctors will earn considerably more when they migrate to work in the UK, US or Saudi Arabia. But it will also cost a Nigerian huge sums to receive medical training in these countries.

A Nigerian medical student enrolled for the Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) degree at the University of Newcastle in the UK, for instance, will need to pay N19, 640, 800 (£34,000) as tuition fees alone per year, or no less than N 98,229,200 (£174,000) for five years. The equivalent amount for tuition alone if the same student were enrolled at Ahmadu Bello University or the University of Ibadan is N0.00. Besides, it will take a combined period of 3000 years to train 500 doctors in Nigeria. The Saudis are here precisely to reduce these costs for training medical personnel in their own country, at our expense.

It is deeply concerning, then, that doctors trained on free tuition by public funds in Nigeria will scamper out of the country upon the slightest opportunity in search of some supposed greener pastures. It is true that doctors’ pay and working conditions in Nigeria are indeed poor, relative to their peers in other countries, and should not be. But so too are the pay and working conditions of other professionals in the public sector, like the policemen and soldiers in the frontline of insecurity everywhere across the country. Should they too leave for greener pastures elsewhere?

We recognise the enormous sacrifice doctors and other health professionals make for Nigeria daily, and we urge the federal and state governments to find lasting solutions to the problems in the health sector, including the issue of pay and working conditions. But we also urge Nigerian doctors running away from the country to reconsider. Doctors, like all other professionals trained in Nigeria’s free tuition university system, have an obligation to stay here, serve here and give back to the country. Nigeria cannot continue training doctors for other countries.

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