Can we really blame brain drain for supply side issues in health service delivery in Nigeria?

I have read a lot articles that highlight the extent to which the migration of healthcare workers from Nigeria is affecting health care supply to the country’s population. I believe that migration has definitely decreased the amount of available professionals required to provide healthcare to the masses, however, I ask myself the question –At this point,  if these healthcare professionals were prevented from leaving Nigeria for developed countries, would there be more access to healthcare in Nigeria? I don’t think so.

A lot of emphasis is being put on how many health professionals leave the country instead of the reasons why. Granted – we all know that these health professionals are underpaid and leave the country in search of a better life. What is the government doing about the situation? Not much.

We have situations where government officials who are responsible for the provision of healthcare in Nigeria are traveling oversees for treatment. Take for instance the former President of Nigeria – Umaru Yar’adua who was chronically ill and died during his term in office. According to the Washington Post, “Yar’Adua, perpetually troubled by a chronic kidney ailment, left Nigeria on Nov. 23, 2009, to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.” When the president leaves the country to get health care, why would you expect any other citizen who has the chance to leave the country to stay? The situation has gotten to the point where according to the article Sub-Saharan Africa: Beyond the health worker migration crisis by J. Connell et al, ”Nigerians have been estimated to spend as much as $20 billion a year on health costs outside Nigeria.” This is a clear signal that the health care system is in need of major reform.

Until the government addresses the issues currently plaguing the health care system in Nigeria, more health care professionals will leave the country and the situation will keep getting worse. According to WHO, Nigeria’s total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2006) was 4.1. We need to allocate more funds to our health sector. Only when we make the move towards improving on the health sector by restructuring our current system, building infrastructure and compensating health workers for their value can we start to consider how to combat the issue of brain drain within the health sector. Until then, health care professionals will continue to leave for greener pastures while the Nigerian population struggles to find alternatives to their failed health care system.


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