Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige has attracted a trail of negative comments to himself over his statement that he’s not bothered about the phenomenal brain drain in the Nigeria’s medical sector because the country has surplus medical doctors.
Medical associations and experts in the health sector have since countered the minister who said Nigeria has an inadequate number of doctors and is experiencing hardships as a result of the situation.
The minister, also a trained medical doctor, made the block buster remark when he spoke Wednesday as a guest on Channels TV progaramme, Sunrise Daily.
“I’m not worried, we have a surplus (Doctors), if we have a surplus, we export. I was taught Biology and Chemistry by Indian teachers in my secondary school days.
“They are surplus in their country. We have a surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. It is my area, we have excess. We have enough, more than enough, quote me,” he had said in the programme which airs daily from 7am-9am.
He added that “There is nothing wrong [with Nigerian doctors practicing overseas], they go out to sharpen their skills, earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them, not from oil.”
While insisting that the move does not amount to brain drain, Ngige said “Those guys go there, they are better trained because of the facilities they have there. Eventually, I know a couple of them who practise abroad but set up medical centres back home. They have CAT scan, MRI scan which even the government hospitals cannot maintain. So, I don’t see any loss.
“Brain drain will only be inimical when for instance neurosurgeons travel and we don’t have neurosurgeons here.”
Reacting to the minister’s statement, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), which is the umbrella body of medical doctors in the country, said Nigeria is suffering from inadequate number of doctors.
President of the NMA, Dr Francis Adedayo Faduyile, said it is an unfortunate comment from the minister because “it is not true.”
Dr Faduyile said there are many indices that are used to assess whether a country has adequate number of doctors or not. He said one of them is to compare the country’s doctor to patient ratio to that of the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends one doctor to 600 patients.
The NMA boss said for Nigeria, however, the ratio is one doctor to 5,000 people or one doctor to 6,000 people, adding that in some areas it could be worse with one doctor to 10, 000 patients.
He said: “So it shows that for every 1000 people or patients we are short by about 10 doctors. So we are grossly in shortage of doctors. Again some of the countries that he (Dr Ngige) is saying that doctors are free to go to like the United Kingdom have an average of 2.8 doctors per 1000.
“Meanwhile, Nigeria has about 0.2 per 1000. You can see the disparity yet you are saying that we can actually go to places where they have more than enough.”
He said it also showed that those countries where the doctors are leaving for place more premium on health than Nigeria does.
“It is a big issue that we don’t have enough personnel on ground because it has caused a lot of hardships to health management in this country. That is why we have very poor health statistics. The maternal mortality rate of Nigeria is one of the worst in the world; same for the infant mortality and the perinatal mortality.
“So the health indices in Nigeria are terribly bad and if we must improve, the government must do more; we must have more personnel in place,” he said.
He added that government should improve funding for the health sector in line with the 2001 Abuja Declaration which stipulates the allocation of 15% of the budget to the health sector.