Imagine you are a doctor and you are paid one-tenth what you could be paid in another country that offers better facilities. Now imagine that you are employed by the state or federal government, and due to government priorities, rampant inflation, and a recession your government is unable to pay you. Would you move to a country that welcomed your services and compensated you more than you ever dreamed? This is the state of affairs in Nigeria where “brain drain”, the migration of physicians to countries like the UK, US, and Canada, has created a shortage of doctors. One of our Nigerian contributors tells a sad and angry story. She wrote this in December when many doctors were on strike. The strike has since ended.
Good health is a state of being fit physically, mentally, and emotionally. As the saying goes "health is wealth". One can easily deduce that the richest people are those with sound health.
The health care sector can define the greatness of a nation. Nigeria has been called the giant of Africa, yet its health care system is plagued by failures. Nigeria needs 237,000 doctors, but only has 35,000 according to a study by the World Health Organization that was reported in the Premium Times.
The Global Health Workforce Alliance concluded, "The Nigerian health sector is facing a major human resources for health crisis with mal-distribution of the available workforce, and the increasing “brain drain” resulting in shortage of critically needed health professionals."
I live in Lagos state, a state that is regarded as the "modern city" in Nigeria. We are served by two teaching hospitals, the Lagos state teaching hospital and the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. We also have several other hospitals. Unfortunately, hospitals alone do not treat patients. Hospitals need qualified personnel and equipment to provide excellent care. In Nigeria, doctors and nurses must treat so many patients that they have trouble spending the time patients deserve on each case. Many have been accused of being uncaring.
I pray daily that I do not get sick and need to use the hospital. In November of 2016 a young lady lost her legs when a container fell off a bridge onto her. She was rushed to Lagos State Teaching Hospital for immediate treatment (Note: she did not receive first aid which should have been provided on the way to the hospital. Also, she was not taken to the hospital in an ambulance.) Upon arrival at the hospital, she was not given the treatment she deserved, not even first-aid. The doctors and nurses on duty demanded to be paid first! She died after begging for hours. It makes me angry…I mean the doctors signed an oath to save life first. I wish I had studied medicine in college.
But let’s look at this from the doctors’ perspective. There is an on-going strike by the doctors in Nigeria. Many have not been paid for several months. A friend who is a doctor and just completed her housemanship told me that frequently doctors treat patients with their own money when they see someone like the woman mentioned above. They can't afford the bills of a patient while providing for their families. It is understandable that doctors with so much compassion have stopped going to work as they can't bear seeing a sick patient without treating him or her. Some have even changed professions.
I read that one of the best doctors in the U.S is a Nigerian. I wonder, “Could he return to Nigeria and help improve the health care sector?” But realistically, this is not possible because the government would be unwilling to pay him enough. Many Nigerian trained physicians have left the country seeking better conditions and salaries up to ten times what they would earn here. I can’t blame them. A well paid general practitioner in Nigeria may earn 200,000 naira or $700 dollars annually. In other countries doctors earn over $100,000. Read “Salaries of Doctors and Nurses in Nigeria”, Fixusjobs, June 20, 2016)
I am an average Nigerian who cannot afford a hospital bill of more than $50. I recently graduated from a university in the midst of the country's recession. Presently I do not have a reasonable source of income, but I am being paid 20,000 naira (approximately $50) monthly working for the government. There are bills and siblings to take care of out of the $50, and what I will be left with at the end is less than $10. $10 may pay for the consultation fee when visiting a private hospital, but it could not buy any medications or a procedure.
The health care sector in Nigeria is failing. Health care must become a priority of the government. We need more doctors and better facilities. If doctors are paid by the government, they should be paid enough to prevent them from moving to another country. I believe that if I become terminally ill, the government wouldn’t do a thing about it. I love my country so dearly, but I am saving to move to Australia - not because there is war in Nigeria, but because I want a government that will help me achieve wealth through health.