Enhanced welfare package as antidote to brain drain syndrome in health sector

In almost every sector of the country presently, brain drain factor is a serious concern. IDACHABA SUNNY ELEOJO writes on how the health sector in particular has been at the receiving end of this malaise and how it can be tackled. 

The health sector in Nigeria is currently facing a major crisis. Gone are the days when it was only a crisis of obsolete equipment, unemployment and under-employment . Now, due to poor remuneration and unfavourable working environment, many health givers and workers whom the hard-earned tax payers’ money was used to train in the nation’s universities are leaving the country in droves thereby leaving behind a tale of woes. 

In particular, health workers like doctors and nurses are leaving the country in large numbers as they seek greener pastures abroad with UK, U.S and Canada being their preferred destinations.

This would no doubt pose a serious concern for any serious government that considers the health of the nation as priority. 

In Nigeria, the recurring challenge the sector had always faced is low budgetary allocation far below the World Health Organisation (WHO) specification. This is why the sector had suffered from this perennial problem. It is however a problem that can be solved even though on many occasions whenever they have the opportunity, government officials would describe it to a global phenomena not only peculiar to Nigeria. 

Voices from within

Despite that assertion, many Nigerians and key stakeholders in the health sector have continued to echo their feelings by way of suggesting answers to the nagging problems in the sector.

While many proffer solutions, others simply lament the situation, for instance, Dr Jesse Otegbayo, the chief medical director, University Teaching Hospital (UCH), Ibadan was quoted by the media as saying that between 2020 and October 2021, no fewer than 600 clinical workers resigned their appointments in search of jobs overseas.

Otegbayo said the exodus of health workers was taking its toll on the operations of the hospital.

On his part, Mr Michael Nnachi, president, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), said over 57,000 nurses migrated from Nigeria for greener pastures abroad within a period of five years spanning from 2017 to 2022.

Nnachi attributed such migration to poor working conditions, poor remuneration, amidst overwhelming workload, adding that the migration of these nurses had continued almost every week.

He said the depletion of the workforce was creating a huge workload for the nurses left behind by their colleagues.

The NANNM national president said most medical workers left because of poor condition of service, including low of welfare packages and insecurity challenges such as kidnapping.

According to its newsletter, “Nurses need to be recognised properly and adequately compensated for the work they are doing to avoid the brain drain we are witnessing.

“Nurses constitute over 50 per cent of the workforce in the health sector.  As I speak, a lot of people are leaving the shores of the country, between 2017 and 2022 alone over 57,000 nurses left.

“The reason for all these is because of the poor condition of service. If the issue of salary is addressed, particularly for nurses and midwives, it will help.

“The government needs not to waste time on it because I am aware that no matter the situation in Nigeria, home is still the best but then; what if the home is not conducive; it is a factor that can push people away’’,  Nnachi said.

Morakinyo Olajide, national chairman, Federal Health Institutions Sector, a pressure group under NANNM, said the brain drain syndrome would continue as far as nurses were not properly remunerated.

According to him, no health worker would like to leave his or her comfort zone for a strange environment.

Olajide stated further that medical workers were moving out of the country not out of pleasure but because of the nation’s leaders attitude towards them which he noted had frustrated many of them in the discharge of their duties.

He therefore noted that nurses were supposed to get a 30 per cent shift duty allowance according to a circular released by the federal government of Nigeria.

He said unfortunate, what was paid as the shift duty allowance was not up to one per cent of the promise.

Poor budgetary allocation 

To stop the brain drain trend, Dr Udofia Enefiok, acting chairman, Elders Forum, NMA-FCT, called on policy makers to give priority to the health sector in the implementation of 2023 budget.

According to him, lack of desired attention to the needs of the health sector was responsible for the migration being experienced in the sector.

Enefiok therefore appealed to the government to ensure that it meets the World Health Organisation (WHO) requirement of allocating 15 percent of national budget to the health sector.

He also urged governments to put the right people in place to manage funds meant for the sector, even as he wants the government to ensure diligent implementation of the provisions of the National Health Insurance Act (NHIA).

Not peculiar to Nigeria

The minister of health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, recently announced a plan by the federal government to connect Nigerian doctors and nurses in the diaspora with universities and hospitals in the country.

The minister said, “They can be affiliated with a particular teaching hospital and come in with cutting-edge knowledge and skills to come here and pass this knowledge on,” Ehanire, said.

The minister admitted that experienced doctors and nurses were leaving the country because they felt they were not properly rewarded for the work they do.

He however said the federal government was doing is best to address the issue by improving the conditions of service for medical personnel.

“I was at a meeting where the minister of health of The Gambia was complaining too that their doctors were leaving.

“I also spoke with authoritative in the UK who also complained that their doctors were going to Canada and New Zealand where the pay is better.

“So mobility is global; it is not that we are doing something wrong but it is a product of market forces working globally. The situation is the same in Turkey and Egypt.

“We are trying to measure performance and let people be happy and ensure that they are properly rewarded for what they are doing, ” the minister said.

Stakeholders say government at all levels and even private hospital operators should match their words with action with regards to health workers welfare if the brain drain trend would be halted.

On their part, health workers should dedicate themselves to their duties to ensure that the citizens get maxim satisfaction when they seek healthcare services; after all to whom much is given, much is expected. 

Need to discourage medical tourism

Over the years, medical tourism by those in government who should create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive has had serious toll on the health sector, no wonder the sector has remained nearly comatose. 

This is however not to say that there are no well equipped private hospitals established by Nigerians from the diaspora in the country, but because of the unquenchable thirst for anything ‘foreign’including medical records, the trend has continued unabated. 

It is therefore expected that as Nigeria and Nigerians move into the next phase after the general elections, there are calls for attitudinal change on the parts of leaders and public servants so as to stem the tide of brain drain.