Irrepressible japa (migration) syndrome
We are in an emergency situation and if we continue at this rate, in another five to ten years, only the ‘babalawos’ (herbalists) will be available to take care of us. And that is not what we want.
A colleague from a US-based investigative newspaper combed healthcare facilities in Lagos a few months ago, speaking with nurses and midwives in public hospitals and primary healthcare centers.
During the one week, she conducted the investigation, she visited homes and workplaces to speak with selected nurses and midwives, and nearly all of those she met said they were ready to leave the country.
While many had already begun the process of leaving, others were raising funds to take the necessary examinations that would qualify them to practice in the countries to which they planned to migrate.
What young Nigerians call “Japa” is a general bug that has not only infected nurses and midwives but is sweeping the country like a dreadful epidemic.
Almost every young Nigerian wants to leave because of institutional failures, high poverty levels, hunger, unemployment, underemployment, pervasive insecurity, and political brigandage.
But the healthcare sector seems to be one of the worst affected as thousands of professionals have left the country during the past five years.
Their destinations include the United Kingdom, United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, etc.
Babalawo (herbalists) hospitals and clinics
But during the week, former Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko has warned that unless urgent steps are taken to stop the ongoing trend, herbalists may soon be running the Nigerian health sector.
Though very funny, Mr. Mimoko’s concern is coming just a week after this newspaper published a special report warning of a possible collapse of the nation’s healthcare system.
In our report, we drew attention to the low wages and poor working conditions which have precipitated the mass movement of health workers to other jurisdictions where their services are better appreciated.
Similarly, the former Ondo governor has expressed serious concern over the rate at which medical professionals are leaving the country in search of better opportunities abroad.
He described the situation as alarming and argued that in the coming years, Nigeria will face a severe shortage of qualified health workers across the entire healthcare value chain.
The former governor was speaking during the induction of medical doctors at the University of Medical Sciences (UNIMED), in Ondo Town.
Mr. Mimiko said it is extremely problematic that medical professionals who are trained at highly subsidized rates in the country were allowed to leave for industrialized nations.
Speaking further, he maintained that UNIMED was established while he served as governor as part of measures to address the shortage of medical workers in the country.
He, therefore, called on the government to properly incentivize medical professionals to stay in the country and discourage other nations from poaching them.
“We are in an emergency situation. If we continue at this rate, in another five to ten years, only the ‘babalawos’ (herbalists) will be available to take care of us. And that is not what we want.
“It is an emergency, and the government must see it as an emergency. The government must disincentivize the rate at which our medical doctors and medical personnel are emigrating out of this country,” the former governor advised the government.
It is not only the former governor who has spoken out against the Nigerian government’s poor treatment of medical professionals which has necessitated an exodus, the World Health Organisation has raised a similar concern.
On March 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an alert, listing 55 countries as vulnerable to the availability of health workers required to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal target for universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030.
Nigeria is one of the countries on that list but no tangible action has been taken by the government at the federal and state to address the conditions that make healthcare professionals to japa.
Instead of working to improve wages and the working conditions of health workers in the country, the politicians, who largely obtain medical care abroad, are proposing legislation to stop the exodus in the sector.
A member representing Oshodi/Isolo Federal Constituency II at the House of Representatives, Ganiyu Johnson, said he was planning to propose bills to stop nurses and pharmacists from migrating out of the country.
This came barely a week after the bill he sponsored compelling medical and dental graduates to render five-year compulsory services within Nigeria before being granted full license to practice, passed the second reading at the House.
The earlier proposal is titled, “A 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 years before being granted a full license by the council to make quality health services available to Nigeria; and for related matters.”
While the bills have been roundly condemned by health sector stakeholders, labor, and civil society, Mr. Johnson insisted that it is the best way to go.
“I think we are in the right direction. The reason is that we cannot continue to watch Nigerians die. We have over 200 million people in this country facing very few doctors and with these few doctors, there’s always capital flight every year, so (it is) the reasonable thing to do.
“As much as I agree that we need to improve their welfare packages through my motion, I canvassed for that; there was a motion that I raised that we need to improve on their welfare packages.
“We need to upgrade and maintain some health facilities such as the primary health centers. We should upgrade some of them to general hospital standards.
We should also maintain and upgrade some of our general hospitals to specialist hospitals, while we maintain and upgrade some of our specialist hospitals to research institutes. By doing that, we are creating jobs, openings for doctors,” he argued.
This is a public service report and part of GuardPost’s efforts to improve healthcare delivery in Nigeria.