Nigeria’s Labour Minister Say the country can do without medical doctors leaving for greener pastures

I’m not worried about doctors leaving Nigeria, we have surplus… Ngige

iNewsFeatured NewsBy Kingsley OBIEJESI On Apr 24, 2019

Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige.

MINISTER of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, says the mass exodus of young Nigerian doctors is nothing to be worried about as there is an abundance of doctors in the country.

Ngige, who spoke during Channel Television’s Sunrise Daily on Wednesday, said there was nothing wrong in young doctors going abroad to sharpen their knowledge and skills, make more money and send back to Nigeria to develop the economy.

He said that back in the days when Nigeria did not have qualified teachers, people came from all over the world to teach in Nigerian schools.

“I’m not worried, we have a surplus (of doctors), if we have a surplus, we export,” Ngige said. “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.”

Ngige pointed out that many of the Nigerian doctors practising abroad have medical centres in Nigeria that can boast of modern facilities that could not be found even in government-owned hospitals, hence there is no question of a brain drain

“There is nothing wrong, 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,” he continued.

“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.”

Ngige is a medical doctor by training, having graduated from the University of Nigeria-Nsukka in 1979 and worked at the National Assembly and State House clinics at different times. He retired from the civil service in 1998 as a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Health.

Ngige’s claims re-echoed the opinion of the current Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, who said that the number of doctors in Nigeria was sufficient for the population when compared to other African countries but that the problem was the uneven distribution of doctors across the country.

Speaking during the 38th Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD) in September 2018, Adewole said: “Data obtained from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria as of May 30, revealed that 88,692 doctors are registered in their books. Of these doctors, only 45,000 are currently practising and that gives us a ratio one doctor to 4,088 persons.

“Compared to many other African countries the ratio is not bad, for example, in South Africa it is one (doctor) to 4,000; in Egypt it is one to 1235; in Tanzania it is 1: 14,000; in Ethiopia, it is one to 1 to 118,000, in Kenya, it is one to 16,000 and in Cameroon it is one to 40,000.”

However, according to an article titled, “The emigration of doctors from Nigeria is not today’s problem, it is tomorrow’s”, Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas, a Fellow in the LSE (London School of Economics) Department of Health Policy, noted that though the population of doctors in Nigeria is significant when compared to other African countries, that ratio is still a very far cry from the “global recommendation of one doctor to 600 population”.

FACT CHECK: Ngige’s claim about surplus doctors in Nigeria is FALSE

File photo: Chris Ngige.
What our findings showed

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended a doctor to population ratio of 1:600.

But in Nigeria, according to WHO’s Global Atlas of the Health Workforce Statistics, there are four physicians (people qualified to practise medicine) for every 10,000 persons. This finding is also supported by data from the World Bank stating the ratio of doctors to patients to be 0.395 to 1000 persons, while 1.49 to 1000 persons is the global average. Austria has 5.2 doctors per 1000 persons, Italy has 4, and Switzerland 4.2.

Also, a 2017 survey report published by Nigeria Health Watch and NOIPolls, titled ‘Emigration of Nigerian Medical Doctors’, confirmed that Nigeria’s “medical workforce to population ratio is much lower than the recommended standard”.

It stated that, according to figures from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), there are about 72,000 doctors registered in Nigeria, but only approximately 35,000 stayed to practise in the country.

“When these figures are compared with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended doctor to population ratio of 1:600, we easily deduce how poorly we are performing against this benchmark,” the report stated.

“Nigeria’s National Population Commission (NPC) has projected our current population to be about 182 million at a 3.5 per cent growth rate from the 2006 census. This means we need about 303,333 medical doctors now, and at least 10,605 new doctors annually to join the workforce. Only at this level can we expect good quality patient care that is not compromised by errors occasioned by fatigued and overworked medical doctors.”

Source: 2017 ‘Emigration of Nigerian Medical Doctors’ Survey Report by Nigeria Health Watch and NOIPolls

In 2015, Folashade Ogunsola, a professor of medicine and then chairman of the Association of Colleges of Medicine of Nigeria, also validated this claim. “We will need about 237,000 medical doctors and we have about 35,000 working in the country today,” she said.

Two years later, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) announced, that Nigeria has a ratio of one doctor to 6000 people according to an analysis conducted by the association.

In September 2018, however, Minister of Health Isaac Adewole provided an updated figure of the country’s physician population. He disclosed that data obtained from the MDCN as of May 30 showed that 88,692 doctors are registered in the country.

“Of these doctors, only 45,000 are currently practising and that gives us a ratio one doctor to 4,088 persons,” he said.

Conclusion

Ngige’s claim that Nigeria has surplus medical doctors is false. Rather, statistics provided by the Minister of Health, NMA, MDCN, and WHO showed that the doctor-to-population ratio in Nigeria ranges from 0.15:600, 0.1:600, 0.12:600, to 0.24:600 respectively—all very different from the recommended ratio of 1:600.

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