Nigeria is currently experiencing one of the worst forms of brain drain since its birth in 1914. The health sector is probably the most hit. Research indicates that close to 11,000 health workers in the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) are of Nigerian origin. Although it is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of health workers leaving Nigeria to overseas annually, one can get a sense from relatives, friends, and colleagues calling to bid farewell. Three of the numerous contributory facts to the brain drain are the state of the health sector, the economy, and the insecurity in Nigeria.
First, Nigeria’s health sector is far from perfect. The recent pandemic exposed the inherent weakness of its health system. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a strong health system is characterised by effective health information systems, access to essential medicines, sound leadership/governance, and adequate health financing. The latter component is the most deficient in Nigeria and impacts directly on all the other components of the health system. Despite the pandemic, health financing has remained poor, accounting for only about 4.5% of the 2021 national budget. Such allocation makes equipping hospitals a tall order. The effect also trickles down to the non-competitive pay structure in the sector. Continuous capacity building through training also becomes difficult to achieve. Little wonder, our health workers now go in search of greener pastures in the United Kingdom, United States, Saudi Arabia, and Canada to mention a few. In these climes, the average pay of a health worker is about three times that in Nigeria. A decent allocation of an average of 15% of the national budget to health contributes to the success in the aforementioned countries.
A further contributory factor to the brain drain in Nigeria’s health sector is the current state of the economy. Nowadays, basic amenities such as food, water, electricity, and shelter are far-reaching. For instance, an average health worker cannot afford to live a comfortable life. Food and housing have become so expensive, particularly in urban areas. Portable water is sometimes not available. Access to these amenities is complicated by the free fall of the naira against the dollar. Invariably, the value of earnings has reduced by a least one-third from 2014 to date. So, there is little or nothing left after paying for the very basic. Despite a dearth in electricity supply, tariffs have continued to skyrocket. The high cost of fuel for cars and diesel for generators is alarming and unbearable for many. Again, there is the issue with education. To get a decent quality equation for kids, one must be ready to spend thousands of naira. Overall, it is easy to understand why people attribute leaving the country to an opportunity to access basic amenities and good education for their children.
Third, the diminishing state of security is in the country is most worrisome. Kidnapping, terrorism, and armed robbery are on the increase. Just a few days ago, explosives were detonated by terrorists on the Abuja-Kaduna rail resulting in abduction and loss of lives of passengers. The generality of the Nigerian populace find it difficult to thrive in an unsafe society. More so, health workers are being offered incentives for a peaceful life through the health care worker visa in the UK and other legal routes in other countries. Nigerian health workers are leaning toward the only gleam of hope and are leaving in droves for a better life.
In conclusion, the exodus of health workers is draining the pool of health workers in Nigeria. If this trend is left unchecked, the maybe a huge gap in the number of qualified health workers in the country. As a matter of urgency, the government may enact favourable policies and pay structures to attract and retain qualified Nigerians in the health sector.