Globally, Nigeria ranks among the worst countries in maternal health outcomes and this is because the country is experiencing a surge in the number of trained skilled workers migrating to other countries, particularly to the West. Many of them are graduates trained in Nigerian universities, highly subsidized by the government. These trained health workers take with them years of training and skills to foreign countries, creating a dent in the already weak healthcare systems and causing a great challenge to the country’s economy.
In 2020, only 4.18% of the annual budget of 13.6trn was allocated to health services. According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, doctors cost an African country between $21,000 and $51,000 to train while in the United Kingdom, an international medical student will spend a total of £143,000 minus accommodation and living expenses. Nigeria is one of nine countries who have lost more than $2bn since 2010 training doctors who then migrate. Research shows that countries like the UK benefit more from this misfortune that plagues the country with one in 10 doctors working in the UK coming from Africa.
It is no secret that medical professionals are frustrated by the lack of investment in the health sector by the government, poor remuneration, paucity of facilities, poor working conditions, rising living cost, high taxes, deductions from salaries, insecurity and many more are the reasons health workers are leaving the country for better opportunities. An average Nigerian medical student upon leaving medical school is already thinking of either applying for Professional and Linguistics Assessments Board (PLAB) exam for the UK or United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) for the US for either resident training or internship. The new Health and Care Visa policy of the UK to attract the best talents, especially healthcare professionals in Nigeria and other parts of the world would even make the issue more scary and difficult to deal with.
This menace gets more difficult to tackle as the leadership of the country is less concerned by the issue. In 2019, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said on national television, that doctors who want to relocate to other countries in search of greener pastures are free to do so, claiming that Nigeria has enough medical personnel to cater for the population. Also, coupled with the fact that the number 1 citizen of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari who is supposed to discourage medical practitioners from leaving, regularly engages in medical tourism.
In December 2017, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) reported that about 42,845 doctors, dentists and alternative medical practitioners are registered and only 39,912 of them are medical doctors. In 2019, the NMA reported about 75,000 Nigerian doctors were registered with the body but over 33,000 have left the country, leaving just 42,000 available to over 200 million Nigerians. This means that Nigeria’s ratio of doctors to its population is below the 1 to 600 patients’ recommended by the World Health Organization. From the increasing figure of doctors leaving the country, it is obvious that the country’s health industry needs urgent attention and reform.
Although Brain Drain is not a new phenomenon especially in Nigeria, government needs to acknowledge that this menace is costing the country more than it benefits. The solution would be for greater investment in health to reduce the brain drain of Nigerian doctors.