Udora Orizu writes that the bill presently before the House of Representatives seeking to curb brain drain in the medical field is obnoxious and may not see the light of the day
Members of the House of Representatives recently passed for second reading a Bill which seeks to make it compulsory for graduates in medical and dental fields to work in Nigeria for five years before being granted a full license.
This bill is not only discriminatory but harsh and not in the interest of the people.
The proposed legislation tilted, “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 before granted a full licence by the council in order to make quality health services available to Nigeria,” was sponsored by Hon. Ganiyu Johnson (APC, Lagos).
The lawmaker had in his lead debate, said the proposed legislation seeks to cure the exodus of brain drain and build the manpower in medical sector. Despite the criticisms the Bill sponsor is however not backing down. Johnson in a recent interview said the parliament is preparing a similar Bill to stop nurses, pharmacists from relocating abroad.
For many years Nigeria’s healthcare system has been plagued by brain drain which translates into a very poor doctor-patient ratio. Annually the health sector faces an exodus of skilled workers to Europe and other continents.
Recently, it was reported that the UK licensed 91 Nigerian doctors within 15 days, bringing the number of Nigerian-trained physicians to more than 10, 200 comprising of specialists, associate specialists, general practitioners and doctors in training.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, according to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), about 5,000 doctors had applied for, and met the requirements to work abroad: they were only waiting for the ease of lockdown in order to leave the country to various parts of the world. Subsequently, officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were in Nigeria scouting for medical personnel to fill up available spaces in their health sector. These are doctors and other medical specialists trained in Nigeria and who were working within the country at the time.
In 2020, the Migration Policy Institute showed that among the 958,000 physicians in the U.S, 269,000 (28 percent) were immigrants.
Of the 21,000 African born physicians, 6,000 (28 percent) are from Nigeria.
There are many narratives concerning the emigration of our doctors to more developed countries. The views cut across a broad spectrum from outright condemnation of health professionals for leaving their country to commendations for every health worker that has been able to leave.
However, some of the major reasons for the continued brain drain in Nigeria’s healthcare sector are poor welfare of the personnel, inadequate facilities and poor working environment.
Doctors Kick Against Bill
Since the day the bill was passed through second reading, the Bill which will now be scheduled for public hearing for stakeholders to make input, has generated criticisms, as many Nigerians have condemned it describing it as obnoxious and harsh.
The Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria said the bill is discriminatory, harsh and not in the interest of the people.
The MDCAN in a press statement signed by its President, Dr Victor Makanjuola, and Secretary-General, Dr Yemi Raji, said the bill is an excellent example of modern-day slavery.
According to the duo, the passion and concern for the health of Nigerians demonstrated by the sponsor of the bill as the panacea for physician brain drain is misdirected, ill-informed, and poorly thought through.
The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), on its part, said it will strongly resist plans to enslave doctors in the country.
The association, in a communique after a meeting of its national officers committee (NOC), said it agreed with the lawmaker about the dangers of brain drain in the health sector, but described the bill as “obnoxious” and “modern-day slavery”.
President of the World Medical Association (WMA), Dr. Osahon Enabulele, also kicked against the Bill, saying as one who has engaged the issues of Nigeria’s health system, including the crisis of brain drain, for over two decades, he considered the proposition of the sponsor as “not only outlandish, but totally retrogressive, unresearched and very ill-formed.”
Enabulele who spoke after attending the 5th Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Geneva, said the sponsor of the Bill claimed there are about 10, 000 doctors practicing in Nigeria, adding that the claim alone clearly showed the unresearched nature of the proposal.
As more condemnation trailed in, Dr Uche Ojinmah, President, Nigerian Medical Association, the umbrella body for medical doctors in Nigeria, while describing the Bill as dead on arrival, vowed to challenge the bill in court and warned of an imminent showdown with government.
Will the Bill See the Light of the Day
It’s clear that the proposed legislation is dead on arrival, as it will be rejected by stakeholders in the medical sector during the public hearing.
Rather than coming up with this type of anti-people Bill, lawmakers should task the federal government on a proper overhaul of Nigeria’s decaying health sector. That’s the only way to reduce the mass exodus. With an improved welfare and emoluments of the workers, most doctors won’t see the need to migrate to another country.
Also, an efficient healthcare system can be a source of foreign exchange earnings as Nigeria would become a medical hub for foreigners.