JAPA Syndrome: Nigeria is losing its doctors and the population is getting ‘sick’


About 8 out of every 10 Nigerian doctors are currently seeking work opportunities outside of Nigeria according to a report of a survey conducted by the Nigerian Polling organization NOI Polls.


Apparently, official health authorities are concerned about the mass exodus of doctors and nurses to foreign countries. The main reasons cited for this renewed flight of health workers are better pay and medical facilities.



According to an embassy worker in Abuja who preferred to stay anonymous, foreign embassies in Nigeria, particularly those of Britain, the United States, and Saudi Arabia, receive on a weekly basis 20 to 25 verification requests from Nigerian doctors and nurses wishing to migrate abroad. This translates into roughly about 1,196 applications a year.



Mr. Bello Ihua, while disclosing the figures to journalists in Abuja, said the survey cuts across junior, mid and senior level in public and private medical facilities including; house officers, corps members, senior medical officers, residents, registrars, consultants and medical directors.



According to Mr Ihua; “Nigeria has about 72,000 medical doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria but only approximately 35,000 are currently practicing in the country. The United Kingdom and the United States are the top destinations where Nigerian medical doctors seek work opportunities.”


“No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark.”


A recent study on the subject found that sub-Saharan African countries, including Nigeria had conservatively lost $2.17 billion they invested in training doctors who then left to find work in more developed countries.This amount could easily run into tens of billions of dollars as the 2011 study by Canadian scientists focused on only nine countries that have a heavy HIV/Aids burden, and only on doctors.



Following this grim reality,  Nigerian health authorities regrets that the destination countries are saving themselves billions of dollars in training costs by recruiting doctors trained abroad—at least $4.55 billion, with the UK, which has the highest population of doctors of African descent, accounting for nearly half of these savings.



According to Dr Philip Ipaye, Medical Director of a popular diagnostic centre in Abuja, the exodus of doctors and nurses, from Nigeria to foreign lands will not stop until the government addresses the issue of poor salary and the decay in the Nigerian health sector.



“Let me highlight some of the reasons I find cogent in the NOI survey, high taxes and salary deductions are one reason, there is very low work satisfaction in Nigeria with poor salaries and emoluments, inadequate opportunities for career growth as well as lack of proper infrastructure,” he stated.



He also noted that doctors were left with no choice but to take these juicy appointments abroad when they could no longer cope with the frustrations enshrined in the country’s system.



“One of the things that have to happen is for us to reinvest in our health institutions. Many Nigerians have a lot of money but they are not spending it on health care. They are building mansions they don’t need. But when they fall sick, they expect the doctors whom they have not invested in their training to treat them effectively.



“We need to look at how to develop hospitals to attract more Nigerians. I have listened to patients and I tell you they are discouraged to visit public hospitals. The right investment will change this belief,” Ipaye noted.





According to Dr. Attah Essien a graduate of Medicine from the popular College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Nigerian doctors should not be blamed as they are plagued by numerous frustrations serving in Nigerian health institutions.



“In Nigeria, we all see doctors as being on top of the food chain hence they carry a heavy burden. Numerous relatives feast on their finances like hungry vultures who keep on coming back for more. They can never take no for answer for it is said doctors always have money as if they work in Nigerian Mint.


“We have lost between 5,000 to 7,000 of doctors to brain drain within five years”


“Besides the retinue of dependents, there is the drop in job satisfaction. The recalcitrant nature of Government has left many doctors on half pay, irregular pay or no pay at all. How can a man with a retinue of dependents and a gamut of hungry mouths to feed survive when his small stipend is irregular and subject to political manipulations? And the frustration only mounts when you see your colleague who travelled overseas faring far better despite your waning patriotic zeal that Nigeria will be better.



This is only the beginning of frustration to harbour such justified thoughts as seeking greener pastures abroad”



Then there is the poor state of affairs in the health sector. Incessant strikes and decaying infrastructure have reduced Doctors in Nigeria to a basal level of indignation and anger. It is now easier to squeeze water from stone than ensure the best possible care for patients.




“The most basic of life saving measures like oxygen and blood transfusion services are fast becoming a luxury and it is only a man of stone who will not feel depressed at the loss of a patient whose life could have been saved.”



For Dr. Ipaye, he will equally jump at an opportunity of practicing abroad if such presents itself. He is rather miffed that the political class is doing little or nothing to stem the tide.



What is baffling is that the politicians don’t seem to care about this efflux. Why will they care? As long as they can go and meet them (the Nigerian doctors) in the UK and US for treatment.



In Nigeria, starting salary for federal government doctors is between N195, 000 – N220, 000, excluding tax and other reductions. Entry level salary for state doctors varies, depending on the state. Some states pay as low as N150, 000, the highest one can find in states is around N240, 000.Nigeria has around 72,000 medical and dental practitioners who are currently on the register of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN.) Out of this number, around 35,000 are currently practicing in Nigeria, with about 7,000 practicing in the United States and Britain.

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