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Rural areas often face a lack of essential healthcare services.

Doctors’ Anti-Migration Bill and Nurturing Greener Pasture Here

By Lawal Dahiru Mamman

Brain drain in Nigeria has lingered for sometimes now. In the medical profession, it is the most dominant issue occupying the mind of physicians and other health personnel. This may not be unconnected to the fact that human life is sacrosanct.

It goes without saying that the incessant brain drain of medical personnel in Nigeria will slow attainment of Universal Health Coverage (UHC); that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship, in this part of the world.

Mostly, the mass exodus of doctors out of the country are caused by poor welfare of medical practitioners, lack of or insufficient working equipment as well as poor working environment leading to the need for seeking a more sumptuous alternative – greener pasture as it is called.

This is purely a reflection of the theory which argued that “…… if wages rose above subsistence, the number of workers would increase ….” By implication, wherever our medical brains are sprinting to have a more luscious wage or salary for the profession. This would then increase the workforce of the country while wearing out that our dear nation.

Discussions have sprung overtime on how to salvage the situation. Experts have suggested increment in the welfare of doctors while others have voted for ending medical tourism especially by public office holders to enable them pay more attention to funding health facilities at home.

The most recent attempt in curbing the mortal exodus of medical practitioners is to shackle them with power of the law. This is through a bill sponsored by Ganiyu Johnson, a lawmaker from Lagos. The bill seeks to amend the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act 2004, to address the brain drain in the health sector. According to the lawmaker, it is only fair for medical doctors who enjoy taxpayer subsidies on their training to give back to society.

The legislation is titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act, Cap. M379, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to Mandate Any Nigeria Trained Medical or Dental Practitioner to Practice in Nigeria for a Minimum of Five Years Before Granted a Full License by the Council in Order to Make Quality Health Services Available to Nigeria; and for Related Matters.’

Read Also: Health Minister Backs Reps’ Proposed 5-Year Mandatory Bill For Nigerian Doctors

While the above is more restricted to medical and dental practitioners, the same lawmaker said on Friday, April 14, 2023, that he would be presenting a similar bill on nurses and pharmacists, when he intends to that, time will tell.

With different medical associations reacting in negation, by stating that the bill has the propensity to trample on the rights of doctors, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the bill is in order especially looking at the fees paid by the government to subsidise their training at universities, and the service which they render before traveling overseas. The service do not make up for the cost of training, the minister said.

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has said the bill will not see the light of the day because, it is an impediment of the constitutional right to freedom of movement of doctors and a violation of international labour law, chiefly since student from all other professions have also been subsidised by the government.

The Nigerian Medical Students Association (NiMSA) and the World Medical Association (WMA) have vehemently disapproved it too because the bill according to latter is “not only outlandish, but totally retrogressive, unresearched and very ill-informed.”

The bill that intends to give health workers full license only after 5 years of working in Nigeria has passed second reading in the House of Representatives. While this may have come out of benevolence, it may not be the piece we search to solve the puzzle of brain drain in the health sector.

If the bill sees the light of day, after 5 years, doctors will still have the freedom of traveling out, in my opinion even more experienced. So, could this be the solution we yawn for? There should be a more lasting solution involving doctors and government officials meeting halfway to save Nigeria’s crumbling health sector.

I want to firmly believe that Nigeria has what it takes to cultivate the soil for growing ‘greener pasture’ our medical professionals continue to voyage foreign lands for. But only leaders fueled with altruism can summon the political will to do the needful.

Lawal Dahiru Mamman write from Abuja and can be reached via [email protected]