“EXDOCDUS”- Movement of the Doctors!!
By George Eze Emeghara
Last week there were reports that all the doctors in two departments in the teaching hospitals in Ilorin and Calabar had moved abroad leaving those departments empty.
There were also accounts of how over 4000 Nigerian doctors had left the country in recent times and how many more were taking the necessary exams to move out.
According to a recent report by Punch newspaper, there are 8300 Nigeria doctors in the United Kingdom.
The report revealed that Nigeria had the third highest number of foreign doctors working in the UK after India and Pakistan.
As Nigerians were trying to digest the implications of these reports, yesterday there were more reports about large numbers of Nigerian doctors heading towards Abuja where some Saudi Arabians had set up shop to recruit Nigeria Doctors to work in Saudi Arabia. Later in the day a video clip showing the venue and some of the doctors went viral.
This exodus of doctors flocking abroad in search of better wages and work conditions did not start today, but the rush has never been this intense.
It is estimated that there are about 40,000 Nigerian doctors working abroad.
This number is said to represent about half of the Doctors trained in Nigeria since 1960.
Obviously no one is counting the huge human and economic cost of this exodus to the government and people of Nigeria.
According to a report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, African countries have spent about 4.6 Billion Dollars of their scarce on training these Doctors who were recruited by countries like the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
Nigeria by virtue of its population would have spent the largest chunk of this money.
This development is particularly alarming because of the consequences such mass exodus has for our health sector.
Clearly, the exodus will lead to a shortage qualified well trained medical personnel and worsen the already poor health delivery services in the country.
Sadly, despite the obvious dire human and economic implications of this exodus for the country, the various governments in Nigeria do not appear to care about what is going on.
It is said that Nigeria has about 75,000 Doctors for its 200 million people.
This gives a doctor/patient ratio of 1:3500 which is much lower than the World Health Organisation ( WHO) standard of 1:600
The shabby manner in which the government is treating the resident doctors who are currently on strike is a practical demonstration of how serious the government is about improving the lot of doctors or keeping them from leaving the country
It is not only the doctors who are leaving.
Nurses, radiographers, pharmacists, lab scientists and other health professionals whose skills are in demand in foreign lands are also part of the exodus.
The doctors and other health professionals who wish to seek greener pastures have no blame in this matter.
Everyone has a right to go where his services are appreciated and adequately remunerated.
Patriotism and nationalism do not put food on the table or pay the children’s school fees.
Resident doctors in the country numbering over ten thousand are on strike because Government does not want to abide by an earlier agreement which they reached after a similar strike sometime ago over better pay better facilities and working conditions in the hospitals.
Indeed, it is an understatement to say that Nigerian doctors are poorly paid.
For instance, in hospitals owned by the Federal Government, the younger doctors may earn up to 200,000 Naira ( about 400 Dollars) a month, while in private hospitals and those that belong to state governments the pay is much less.
To compound the paltry pay, the salaries are usually irregular.
Abroad they would earn about 10,000 Dollars or more a month, about 5 million Naira.
The poorly equipped hospitals, the insecurity in the land especially kidnappings have not helped matters.
In the circumstances is it a surprise that doctors want to leave the country? According to a 2017 poll, 9 out of ten doctors working in Nigeria want to move abroad .
It is not unusual for people to vote with their feet when there is a poor government or unsuitable work and living conditions in their country.
What is pursuing them is the hopelessness they see all around them.
If and when things get better many of them usually return.
We saw it happen in Ghana. We saw it happen in India.
Once conditions in those places improved, many of their people returned home.
For some people, no matter how rich or comfortable they are abroad, there is nowhere like home.
However behind every cloud, there is a silver lining or we say in these parts, “everything wey get disadvantage, get advantage”.
There are many benefits that Nigeria and Nigerians can reap from this mass movement of doctors to foreign lands
Doctors and others moving abroad will boost diaspora remittances of scarce foreign exchange into Nigeria.
Currently according to official figures, diaspora remittance is the next biggest earner of foreign exchange after oil.
Infact, it may be bigger than oil as a lot of the remittances pass through unofficial channels which are not captured by the government statistics.
The trickle down benefits of these diaspora remittances on the economy and the lives of the people cannot be measured.
Without such remittances, whatever difficulties many Nigerians are facing now would have been multiplied several times over.
There is a lot that a forward looking government can achieve by engaging the huge diaspora community of Nigerians.
For instance, diasporans in the Nursing sector can be invited to set up, or take over, some of our half dead schools of nursing to train aspiring nurses according to western standards.
This is with a view to placing them in jobs at the end of their programme. That is the kind of thing the Filipinos are doing.
In the Philippines they even have institutions where they train maids, servants, gardeners and butlers for export.
They teach them foreign languages and mannerisms and place them in jobs abroad.
That is why Filipino domestics are found all over the world, even in Nigeria.
That is also why diaspora remittance is their biggest source of foreign exchange.
The Indians are also doing a similar thing with their IT schools.
They prepare and place young people to work in big technology companies all over the world.
The leaders and governments of many poor countries have come to realise that diaspora remittances have the capacity to lift more people out of poverty faster than anything the government can do.
The major problem Nigerians have is that the people they elect, or who elect themselves, to run their affairs are not thinking of the people.
They are only thinking of themselves.
Another area in which this exodus of health care personnel could be of benefit to Nigeria is in the area of Medical tourism, which is also a major foreign exchange earner.
Again, see what is happening in India in that area. People from all over the world now go to India for medical treatment. Many of the hospitals they patronise were set up by Indian doctors who returned from various parts of the world.
Many Nigerian doctors abroad are prepared to come home and build world class hospitals diagnostic centres and care homes which would attract those people who ordinarily would travel abroad for treatment.
Many of them have already done so, leveraging on their knowledge, experience, wealth and contacts to set up world class health establishments.
All hope is not lost. An inspired and inspiring government or leadership can turn things around very quickly.
But meanwhile anyone who can leave this country should do so until the situation here improves.
Bon voyage to our brothers and sisters who are moving abroad in search of greener pastures.
May God protect them and help them fulfill their hearts’ desires.
That is my prayer for all who are jumping the sinking ship called Nigeria.
George Eze Emeghara is a Nigerian journalist, writer and public affairs commentator based in the southeastern city of Owerri. Money Palaver is his column for Nairaweb.ng.