The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, has said that he was misquoted, following the public outcry that greeted his statement that mass departure of medical doctors out of the country was nothing to worry about since Nigeria has more doctors and could afford to export some.
Ngige made this known in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Nwachukwu Obidiwe, in Abuja on Thursday.
He was reacting to a media report quoting him as saying that the issue of doctors leaving the country in a large number did not call for much concern.
He described the attendant controversies that had trailed the comment in the media as unnecessary, and urged deeper understanding of the issue in question.
Ngige said, “I speak from the vantage position of being a medical doctor and member, Nigerian Medical Association, since June 1979 and enriched by my vast knowledge on health administration.
“Having retired as a Deputy Director, Medical Services and Training from the Federal Ministry of Health in 1998, member of Vision 2010 Committee on Health, as well as senior member, Senate Committee on Health 2011-2015.
“Therefore, the truth, no matter how it hurts, must be told and reality, boldly faced. Hence, apart from Nigeria’s non-compliance with the World Health Organisation’s ratio of one doctor to six hundred patients of which I was misquoted, every other thing I said in that interview is an existential reality, useful and constructive facts which every Nigerian that watched the full interview will hardly dispute.
“I invite opinion moulders, especially those who have spoken or written on this issue, to watch the full clip of my interview with the Channels (Television).
“And it is for this reason that I admitted having a little cause to worry about brain drain among medical doctors.
“The fact is that, while the Federal Government has recorded a remarkably steady improvement in our healthcare system, Nigeria is yet to get there.”
The minister added that Nigeria did not, at present, have enough health facilities to accommodate all the doctors seeking to do tertiary specialist training (residency) in the teaching hospitals, federal medical centres and few accredited state and private specialist centres in the country.
He also noted that roughly 20 per cent of the yearly applicants were being absorbed, while the remaining 80 per cent tried their luck elsewhere.
He, however, noted that most of these rejected applicants usually throng the Federal Ministry of Health and that of Labour and Employment to complain of being illegally schemed out.
The statement explained further that what the minister meant was that these professionals had the right to seek training abroad to sharpen their skills and become specialists.
“They later turn this problem to a national advantage when they repatriate their legitimate earnings and later return to the country.
“Even where some of these doctors are bonded to their overseas training institutions, examples abound on the large number of them who have successfully returned to settle and establish specialist centres across the country.
“It is, therefore, a question of turning your handicap to an advantage,” the minister said.
He said the situation was not peculiar to Nigeria, as countries like Pakistan, Ceylon, Bangladesh exported teachers to secondary schools in the old Eastern and Northern Regions in the 60’s and 70’s when their earnings were also repatriated to their countries.
He further stated that the Ministry of Labour and Employment had a migration policy, developed with the European Union, to assist skilled Nigerians to work and earn decent living abroad.
He also noted that the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora had done a lot of work in encouraging Nigerian professionals abroad to return.
He also noted that a good number of doctors were relocating from the United States and other European countries.
“Luckily, the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and Employment is developing a federal assisted programme for these young doctors and other allied health professionals such as pharmacists, physiotherapists in a move to broaden training opportunities.
“It again asserted that Nigeria has enough medical personnel to man non-specialist centres in the rural areas,’’ he said
He regretted that the major problem was the refusal of young doctors to work in the hinterland.
“Even the National Youth Service Corps doctors, all, today seek postings to the cities as against what obtained some decades ago.
“Besides, doctors who did not get the few vacancies in the tertiary centres, especially those owned by the Federal Government, find it difficult to work in the rural hospitals.
“But the truth is that the Federal Government has, in its 2019 Budget now before the National Assembly, implemented the Health Act provisions for one per cent of the consolidated revenue of the Federation to be added to the health budget to boost medical services.
“This, especially at the grassroots, in partnership with the state governments who are expected to make a five per cent counterpart contribution,” he added.
He, therefore, said the Nigerian Medical Association state chapters and National Association of Resident Doctors had a duty to campaign and persuade state governments to devote more funds to healthcare.
He added that doctors’ union was not only for the purpose of personal aggrandisement, or asking for more emoluments and urging members to go on strike.
“Therefore, while the Federal Government, indeed, government at all levels, strive to meet up with the World Health Organisation’s ratio of one doctor to five hundred patients, we appeal to the Nigerian Medical Association to prevail on its members to serve in the rural areas.
“That the Federal Government has an on-going programme that will in near future, revive and revitalise all the basic health centres in all the wards across the federation,’’ he said.