Brain drain: Stakeholders demand immediate action

Following the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation, WHO, and the International Council of Nurses, ICN, issued an alert warning on the global depletion of health personnel.

They reported that over 180,000 medical employees were killed by the COVID-19 virus, and a large number of health workers have quit their jobs due to exhaustion and frustration from multiple tragedies that occurred throughout the pandemic.

ICN further stressed that there was a global nursing shortage of 5.6 million nurses, with Africa one of the continents in dire need for qualified nurses. It also stated the European region also needs medical workers to meet their current and future needs.

But while several nations are rising to the call by taking fast measures to cover their shortfall of health workers, in Nigeria it is a different scenario, as the government seems unperturbed.

Losing Our Best Hands:

With the failure of the government to effectively respond to unending complaints of poor salary and welfare packages, Nigeria’s medical talents leave in droves to countries luring health workers with bumper pay structures and advanced hospital facilities, to come in and fill their depleted workforce.

Countries such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are actively seeking to hire medical professionals to address the severe shortage caused by COVID-19.

To facilitate the hiring process, these countries have implemented special immigration programs and accelerated the recognition of foreign qualifications.

For example, the UK introduced the ‘health and care visa’ program in 2020, while Canada has relaxed language requirements and streamlined the qualification recognition process for foreign-trained nurses. In a recent development, Germany has expressed its goal of recruiting 500,000 African nurses to address staffing shortages in its healthcare system.

According to statistics obtained from the UK General Medical Council, the government body that maintains the official register of medical practitioners, there are currently over 11,000 Nigerian-trained doctors in the UK.

Nigeria has the third highest number of foreign doctors working in the UK after India, and Pakistan. Also, a report revealed that between December 2021 and May 2022 alone, 727 Nigerian medical doctors migrated to the UK.

In January, the National President of Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr Innocent Orji revealed that Nigeria has lost about 2800 resident doctors over a period of two years.

According to Dr Orji, the number does not include medical consultants and other specialist doctors that have left the country.

Also, the president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Uche Rowland added that 74 per cent of health practitioners in Nigeria intend to migrate to seek greener pastures abroad.

This brain drain in the health sector is rising to a crisis level, and it has become hard for Nigeria to retain its skilled medical workers, and build a functional healthcare system.

According to WHO, Nigeria is among the countries struggling with a serious shortage of health workers, citing that the country has one of the lowest physician-to-patient ratios in the world, with only 4 physicians to 10, 000 patients.

The implication of this shortage can make it difficult for patients to receive the medical treatment they need, especially in rural areas where access to healthcare services is limited.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, stressed that health workers are the backbone of every health system, and yet some of the world’s fragile health systems do not have enough and many are losing their health workers to international migration.

Desperate Measures:

The alarming depletion of the country’s skilled medical workers has severe consequences for Nigeria’s healthcare system and its citizens’ access to quality care.

The shortage of doctors and nurses exacerbates the already overwhelmed healthcare infrastructure, leading to longer waiting times, reduced patient care, and ultimately, poorer health outcomes. This brain drain not only undermines the progress made in medical education and training but also stalls the development of sustainable healthcare programs in Nigeria.

And in a bid to stem the exodus of medical workers, the former President Muhammadu Buhari administration made moves to control the migration of the health workers by getting some years of mandatory service in Nigeria before they could go for other employment opportunities abroad.

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