Brain Drain and its Effect on the Health Sector

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Monday December 06, 2021 / 10:15 AM / by FDC Ltd / Header Image Credit:  iStock


The healthcare industry registered a 4.65% increase in the second quarter of the year11; however, this should not be used to define the sector's performance as the level of brain drain in the sector continues to rise. Although the country is doing well economically with a 5.01% growth rate, the country still has a long way to go as diseases such as hepatitis and HIV aids are seriously affecting a significant percent of the total Nigerian population. Using the pandemic as a lens, the country could have effectively limited the virus's spread if it had a better healthcare system; unfortunately, residents were forced to rely on traditional and herbal means of survival prior to the advent of vaccines.


According to Nigeria HealthWatch, there are 80,000 doctors registered with the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council as of June 2021, but only around 35,000 of them are practicing in the country. The others are working in other countries - roughly 4,000 in the United States and 5,000 in the United Kingdom - and a handful have changed careers. leaving only 35,000 doctors responsible for the health of nearly 200 million Nigerians.12 This is woefully insufficient. The World Health Organization suggests a one-doctor-to-600- patients ratio for member countries to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals in health care. Nigeria, for example, has a population density of 0.3 persons per 1,000, compared to 1.8 in China, 2.6 in the UK, 2.8 in the US, 4.3 in Sweden, and 5.83 in Italy. In other words, in the country, one doctor attends 5,000 people.


In fact, this is the second time in less than three years that Saudi officials have gone directly to Nigerian physicians in order to revitalize and re-energize their own healthcare system. Hundreds of physicians, including consultants, specialists, and other relevant professionals in all medical disciplines except psychiatry, with various years of experience, flocked to Abuja and Lagos for the well-publicized recruiting. According to an estimate, they numbered around 500 people. Anesthesia, ICU, pediatrics surgery, family medicine (consultants only), obstetrics and gynecology, ENT, emergency medicine, all sub-specialties (surgery), all sub-specialties (internal medicine), orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, radiology, hematology, and histopathology were among the specialties covered by those interviewed.


Corruption, insufficient funding, inadequate facilities and poor working conditions all have an impact on the country's healthcare industry. Although their influence on the health care industry's performance cannot be exaggerated, they also serve as factors contributing to the high level of brain drain in the sector accounting for majority of the sector's deterioration.


Corruption is a widespread issue in the society, and it has stymied the health-care sector's growth. As of January of this year, the country was ranked as the second most corrupt in West Africa. This issue has an impact on the health care industry since money intended for boosting the sector's performance are instead embezzled and utilized for personal gain. There is also the issue of nepotism. Medical practitioners do not recruit people based on their talents and degree of education, but rather on how well they know them or how many advantages they can derive from them. As a result, the sector's production and efficiency suffers. This is why some doctors would prefer to emigrate to other countries where they know they stand a chance in an even playing field.


Working circumstances for these medical practitioners are exceedingly poor; as a result, several medical practitioners opt to work overseas. This issue has resulted in multiple strikes by the medical practitioners in this sector. The recent one being as a result of late and defaulted payments. This can be expected as the Nigerian government has been operating with a deficit budget since 1981. For the past ten years


Nigerians have spent about $ $11 billion on medical services. Specifically, Nigeria spends approximately $1 billion every year on medical tourism, primarily to India. This was reported by a BusinessDay article which stated that in 2013, 47% of Nigerian travelers to India came for medical reasons. Furthermore, they spent up to N41.6 billion on medical expenses


In the Abuja Declaration of 2001, Nigeria and other African Union member states agreed to allocating at least 15% of their national budgets on health. Unfortunately, throughout the last 18 years, the country's rate has never exceeded 6%. Except for the N547 billion health budget for 2021, which accounts for 7% of the total budget. The level of health infrastructure is also a growing concern as a recent assessment by the real estate firm Knight Frank revealed that, Nigeria would "need 386,000 additional beds and $82 billion in health-care real estate assets to match the global average of 2.7 beds per thousand inhabitants." 

The World Bank's figures are similarly bleak. Nigeria's government spends only 3.89 % of its $495 billion GDP on healthcare, compared to 8.25 % in South Africa and 5.17% in Kenya. In 20 years, recurrent expenses have absorbed 78% of overall health spending, while capital has taken only 22%. Between 2001 and 2021, recurring expenditure climbed by 2,822%, while capital expenditure increased by little over 400%. This clearly shows that there is a huge gap in health infrastructure


Despite the fact that the healthcare sector is suffering greatly, there is still reason to be optimistic about the future. This might be accomplished through combating corruption. People should be hired depending on their educational level in order to enhance production. Additionally, money should be used for the intended purpose. This is necessary because it will allow the health-care industry to reach its targeted degree of development. With the increase in funds should also come proper management of these funds as this would prevent embezzlement.


The issue of brain drain in the health care sector can be curbed through effectively through increase investment and spending. As stated before, the World Health Organization has revealed that Nigeria has a five hospital beds per 10,000 patients which is way below standards. We should expect to see some progress in this area if we raise spending, starting with greater capital expenditure, which will have long-term implications in the sector.



The government can address the issue of bad working conditions by providing greater work benefits. Even with the existence of the deadly corona virus, the hazard allowance of these medical practitioner is still set at a relatively low level and this can be very discouraging to these medical practitioners. The government should strive to increase the hazard allowance in order to encourage the 88 percent of doctors who are actively seeking opportunities abroad to begin to look domestically.14 Also, workers should be fairly compensated for the amount of work and effort they put in and should be paid based on international standards.


We can expect the quality of medical services to deteriorate as the amount of brain drain in the healthcare industry rises. This may be avoided by enhancing medical practitioners' working circumstances, increasing investments in the sector and curbing corruption in the country. As a result, the country would see better levels of growth, a higher standard of life, and increased efficiency and production.

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