Nigeria losing health professionals to countries that did not invest in their education

The Nigerian Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Muhammad Pate, has lamented that health systems remain weak in many developing countries like Nigeria partly because they continue to lose their trained health professionals to developed countries that did not invest in their first professional education.

Giving his remarks at the opening plenary of the 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) Tuesday, Mr Pate said half the world’s population is still experiencing “health poverty”, deprivations of access to affordable basic health care, such as immunisation, reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health care.

The 77th WHA is being held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 27 May to 1 June. The theme for this year’s event is “All for Health, Health for All.”

Hundreds of Nigerian health workers migrate annually to more advanced countries, mainly because they seek better working conditions and better quality of life. Some of the popular destinations include the UK, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Various statistics show that over 5,000 Nigerian medical doctors migrated to the UK between 2015 and 2022.

According to the development Research and Project Centre (dRPC), 233 Nigerian doctors moved to the UK in 2015; the number increased to 279 in 2016; in 2017 the figure was 475; in 2018, the figure rose to 852; in 2019 it increased to 1,347; in 2020, the figure was 833 and in 2021, it was put at 932.

Nigeria’s medical education, like most of its tertiary education in public institutions, is highly subsidised although many Nigerians believe the government is not doing enough to support tertiary institutions.

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Global health needs

According to Mr Pate, “Even the significant progress made in addressing HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is looking fragile.”

He said there was a need to “re-examine the global health compact between our countries.”

“To ask the legitimate questions of whether the global health architecture is still fit-for-purpose and whether we have the political will to reform it for a future of greater uncertainties,” he said. “These are the questions that Nigeria would like members of the Assembly to ponder in the days ahead.”

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Nigeria’s efforts

While highlighting Nigeria’s efforts to strengthen its health system, Mr Pate said the theme of the 77th WHA resonates profoundly with Nigeria’s Health Sector Renewal Investment Initiative, whose goal is to save lives, reduce pain, and produce health for all Nigerians.

“In Nigeria, we cannot ask the global community to do what we are not willing to do ourselves,” he said.

“We take responsibility and are striving to rebuild our national health system, improve its governance, strengthen our public health capacities, and unlock our healthcare value chains.

“We are increasing domestic financing, expanding primary healthcare and financial protection for the poor and vulnerable, retraining frontline health workers and increasing training quotas for new ones, stimulating local production of commodities, reinforcing core public health capacities, strengthening prevention and preparedness, and controlling various disease outbreaks.”

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Mr Pate also called on international technical and financing health partners to “match our commitments, align with our priorities, increasing shift to use our national systems that are more sustainable and responsive to the local needs.”

“We see a strong Nigerian health system as integral to regional health security in Africa and to global health security,” he added.

Other recommendations

The Minister also recommended the continuation of ongoing negotiations for a Pandemic Treaty and review of the International Health Regulations.

He noted that “Nigeria aligns with the Common African Position” while negotiations are on until a fair agreement is reached and concluded at a special session before the end of the year.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic had laid bare the vulnerabilities in health systems, both in developed and developing nations and has challenged countries to rethink the connection between access to health and social justice.

“As the world emerges from the pandemic, we would have thought that the sobering lessons of the pandemic reignite our determination to build political will, reinforce global solidarity, refocus on addressing global inequities, and invest in the global commons,” he said.

“As no country can be an island in this hyperconnected world, facing serious threats from infectious diseases, climate change, and leadership dysfunction perpetuating devastating conflicts in too many regions, in parts of Africa, in the Middle East, and even in Europe; the gap between rhetoric and action cannot be louder at the global level. We cannot solve injustices with more injustice.”

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