By Sola Ogundipe
Groups of Nigerian doctors working in the Diaspora have petitioned the House of Representatives over the proposed bill to stop doctors and dentists from migrating abroad for greener pasture. The proposed bill seeks to amend the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) Act to prevent Nigerian-trained medical or dental practitioners from being granted full licenses until they have worked for a minimum of five years in the country, as part of measures to address brain drain in the sector.
In a letter addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, a copy of which was made available to journalists, the medical practitioners said the bill could worsen the nation’s health crisis.
Copies of the letter titled: ‘Re: A Position Statement from Diaspora Medical Associations – Bill Seeking to Restrict Newly Qualified Medical Doctors and Dentists from Leaving Nigeria’, were sent to the Senate President, Dr Ahmed Lawan, and the Chairman House Committee on Health, Dr Tanko Sununu. The letter reads in part:
“The Diaspora Medical Associations have observed with keen interest, the ongoing deliberation in the Green Chambers of the National Assembly on a proposed bill sponsored by Hon. Ganiyu Johnson, to mandate Nigerian-trained medical and dental practitioners to practice in Nigeria for a minimum of five years before they are granted full licenses by the Council. The bill which purportedly seeks to address the adverse effects of brain drain may not be the most effective intervention measure to resolve the situation. It would be counterproductive and would not achieve its intended goal.
“We recognise the problems posed by the exodus of Nigerian medical professionals from our health system which include, but are not limited to, decreased access to health care services, lack of quality of care, care delivery deserts, the inability to adequately enact healthcare and public health policy due to lack of manpower and leadership resource.
“The medical or dental practitioner is the glue that keeps the team functional and the leading force for an effective health care delivery system. Similarly, the medical and dental professional bears the burden for systemic failures resulting in the maladaptive structure fostering stress, undue burden, physical and mental anguish, lack of job satisfaction, poor working conditions and much more.
“The major cause of brain drain includes poor care delivery framework resulting from a failure to invest in the healthcare, to foster a conducive environment. The system does not promote professionalism, growth, work satisfaction nor a high reliability culture. Other major drivers include very poor welfare packages, high level of insecurity, limited opportunities for employment, sub specialty training, sociopolitical and economic instability.
“The majority of these issues stems from outside the healthcare system and is outside of an individual’s control. Indeed, good governance and commitment to future investment in healthcare would improve conditions in the country that will allow security, good education for children, improved compensation, as prescribed in the Abuja Declaration.”
In the letter, they observed that the migration of professionals is not limited to the medical and dental practitioners alone, saying that the question is why is the medical and dental profession being targeted? According to them, “Focusing on one aspect of a problem without taking a holistic approach to a sustainable solution will be ineffective. Young professionals leave the country in search of better opportunities. Many are frustrated by the consequences of governance failures that have progressively worsened over the past 30 years.
“The unfortunate reality is the healthcare system is in a state of serious neglect, training and career development opportunities are limited further impairing earning potential. Insecurity is rampant. Equity and Justice are lacking for the average Nigerian.” The Diaspora Medical Associations said they have invested in crafting effective solutions and are willing to participate in fostering solutions to that extent.
“Hon. Speaker, we look up to your leadership to embrace a purposeful systemic solution and ensuring that a “quick fix” attempt does not worsen the situation. We in the Diaspora, support the position statements from other stakeholders including Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), National Association of Government General Medical and Dental Practitioners (NAGGMDP), and Nigerian Medical Students Association (NiMSA).
“We will continue to support positive changes and growth of our health sector, in all spheres and look forward to engaging with Hon. Abiodun Ganiyu Johnson and other members of the National Assembly in doing the serious work necessary to stop and reverse the brain drain. Diaspora healthcare workers would be willing to return to Nigeria if an enabling environment exists – reversing the trend and helping to solve the problem. We will be looking forward to solutions.”
The letter was jointly signed by the President, Nigerian Doctors’ Forum, South Africa (NDF-SA), Dr Emeka Ugwu; the President, Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas (ANPA), Dr Chinyere Anyaogu; the President, Medical Association of Nigerians Across Great Britain (MANSAG), Dr. Chris Agbo; the President, Canadian Association of Nigerian Physicians and Dentists (CANPAD), Dr Nnamdi Ndubuka, and the President, Nigerian Medical Association-Germany (NMA-Germany), Dr Al Amin Dahiru.
In the same vein, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has called for an urgent restructuring of the medical sector in Nigeria.
Reacting to a proposed review of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) Act during the ICIR Twitter Space on Wednesday, 12 April, the FCT NMA Secretary Michael Olarenwaju said challenges within the sector were major reasons for the massive emigration of doctors from the country.
“The healthcare challenge has been a perennial problem in Nigeria. It is something that we all know. These things have been there since we were children. The sector needs an emergency restructuring,” he said.
Describing the bill as discriminatory and ill advised, Olarenwaju urged lawmakers to carry out adequate research into the root causes of brain drain in the country.
“It is repressive and also anti-common sense. Its anti-people, it is an obnoxious bill. It is like burning down one’s house to exterminate rodents. The Honourable gentleman who attempted to sponsor that bill obviously has something against doctors. Because if you do not research appropriately, how will you attempt to sponsor such a bill?
“If we talk about patriotism, the leaders of the country should also be patriotic. Those that are at the National Assembly should stop going for medical tourism. The man that attempted to pass this bill, should also sponsor a bill to stop members of the House and Senators should stop going on medical jamborees abroad,” he said. The bill seeking to amend the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) Act passed the second reading on April 6. The bill, sponsored by Ganiyu Abiodun Johnson, House of Representatives member representing Oshodi/Isolo Federal Constituency in Lagos, seeks to prevent Nigerian-trained medical or dental practitioners from getting full licenses until they have worked for at least five years in the country.