How FG is tackling healthcare, brain-drain, medical tourism – Health Minister

Ehanire emphasised the importance of Universal Health Coverage, which will ensure that average Nigerians have access to quality healthcare

Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister for Health

By Ibukun Emiola

Mr Wole Jones (not his real name) and his family were involved in a ghastly motor accident in 2022, while returning from Lagos en route Ibadan. His car rammed into a trailer ahead due to brake failure and the incident left him unconscious having sustained a head injury and his wife a neck injury.

On getting to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, having received first aid elsewhere, they had to secure an ambulance to take him for a CT scan outside the hospital, the inconvenience and other logistics were beyond words, said the relative tending to the victims.

Patients in this category and others do not need to worry anymore, given the intervention and provision of some infrastructure by the Federal Government.

Speaking at the inauguration of the seven projects in Ibadan, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, reiterated the commitment of the Buhari led administration to providing infrastructure and facilities in the health sector as well as improved welfare for staff.

He noted that the goal of the administration was to ensure that each ward has a functioning Primary Health Care facility and a standard Secondary Healthcare facility in each local government area, which will enable the Tertiary Health care such as UCH to focus on research, training and treatments.

Ehanire emphasised the importance of Universal Health Coverage, which will ensure that average Nigerians have access to quality healthcare, adding that such is the practice in developed countries hence the need for partnership among state actors and the private sector.

He said University Health Coverage had become germane now more than ever as non-communicable diseases such as Hypertension, diabetes and cancers are beginning to overtake the communicable diseases and the issue of malnutrition, which are on the rise because of ignorance of what to eat and how to combine food.

“Prevention is part of the treatment and Universal Health Coverage is the answer,” Ehanire said.

The minister spoke on global, continental and local collaborations to improve preparedness in tackling outbreak of diseases and treatment, especially in identifying, reporting and responding to issues within the shortest possible time frame.

The issue of brain drain has also become worrisome to the government and it is trying all possible means to address the challenge.

Just after the pandemic hit Nigeria and other countries, economic growth and living conditions nosedive resulting in more hardships and a quest for greener pastures to survive the hard time.

This turn of events led to the exodus of many Nigerians and professionals in various fields and the health sector in particular.

According to reports 4,460 nurses have left Nigeria for the U.K between 2019 and 2022.

This was buttressed by the Chief Medical Director, UCH, Prof. Abiodun Otegbayo, who said during the 65th anniversary of the hospital that every week he signs resignation letters of 15 health workers at the institution who are mostly clinicians, that is, Nurses, Doctors, and Pharmacies among others.

Otegbayo said from 2020 to Oct. 15, 2022, 600 clinical staff had left the hospital, noting that bureaucracy’s bottlenecks had been hindering replacement.

He noted incessant resignation globally, adding that there had been an acute shortage of manpower due to push and pull factors such as poor welfare of workers and insecurity among others.

Addressing the issue of brain drain, Ehanire said though Nigeria had been experiencing mass exodus of its health workers, it was not a new phenomenon as it had been as far back as the 1990s.

“Then Nigerians were going to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other places. So, it is not a new thing. Also, it is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is a global phenomenon.

“There is a huge mobility of the labour force – pharmacists, laboratory scientists, doctors of all levels are moving to other countries.

“I have heard officials of the UK complain that their doctors are moving to New Zealand, Canada andAustralia, where the pay is higher. I have seen Ghanaian ministers saying that their doctors are leaving also.

“Even the Gambia said their doctors are leaving for other countries.  So, it is a global phenomenon, that doesn’t mean it is not a problem.

“It is a problem for all countries, not only that the wealthy countries are looking to improve their health services with cheaply acquired doctors from other countries, they also do not want to train them because of the high cost involved.

“And, in many developed countries, there is nothing like free education at that level and it costs a lot to train doctors,” he said.

According to him, Nigeria is producing over 300,000 doctors yearly and the country is reorganising its housemanship programme to solve the problem of placement for internship.

Ehanire said the government had also taken steps to re-organise residency training programmes to ensure more doctors in Nigeria public hospitals.

“The Federal Government has now allowed for the one-for-one replacement. If you lose one doctor, you replace him with another doctor.

“I want to urge you all not to abuse this programme. If one doctor goes out, replace him with another of the same calibre.

“The government is also looking at how to improve conditions of service and to engage Nigerians in  Diaspora in a scheme known as ‘Knowledge and Skill Repatriation’.

“By engaging them to train and share knowledge using virtual platforms to provide services, even as it improves conditions of service and provide investment on infrastructure and equipment,” he said.

Otegbayo in his remarks lauded President Muhammadu Buhari, under whose leadership there has been provision of infrastructure to improve facilities and create a conducive atmosphere for research at the hospital.

He said with the recent procurement of the 64 slice CT machine, “our Radiology Department will be able to render advanced radio diagnostic services to our teeming patients.

“The two Digital Mammography machines have the latest GT Technology and it is capable of carrying out an array of services.

“The Practical Demonstration Room in Nurse Tutors’ School will be for seminars, tutorials, clinical demonstrations and simulation.

“The establishment of the Molecular Laboratory, envisioned by the Federal Ministry of Health, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, will help to detect, with a high level of reliability, accuracy and rapid turnaround time, microorganisms, genetic mutations associated with certain infectious diseases (COVID-19, Lassa Fever, HIV etc.) and cancers and paternity tests, among others,” Otegbayo said.

The CMD noted that another important project was the Pressure Swing Absorption Oxygen Generating Plant.

According to him, High quality, medical-grade oxygen will be produced and administered to patients in-house, leading to less dependence on oxygen from external sources.

“This will greatly enhance our existing daily oxygen production capacity in the hospital to meet the needs of critically ill patients who are oxygen-dependent.

“These projects were envisioned in my strategic plan to improve clinical services to elevate the hospital from a tertiary hospital to a quaternary level.

“These projects deliver on so many of our commitments to the sustainability of the Hospital and the management is proud and honored to have the Federal Government’s intervention in these key areas of our services,” Otegbayo said.

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)