Nigeria struggles with exodus of doctors and nurses

Nigeria struggles with exodus of doctors and nurses

Faced with sky-high inflation, low salaries and an overstretched healthcare system, doctors and nurses are leaving Nigeria in their thousands every year for better opportunities abroad.


Between 15,000 and 16,000 doctors have departed in the past five years, according to Nigeria's Health Minister Muhammad Ali Pate.

Today, Africa's most populous country has just 55,000 doctors for a population of 220 million, he said.

The exodus of healthcare workers has heaped extra strain on those who stay, and made choices tough for students thinking about their future.

On his way to the Lagos State University College of Medicine, second-year medical student Hassan Adewunmi told AFP he was reluctantly prepared to find work elsewhere after graduating.

"The elites prefer to seek treatment abroad rather than in Nigeria, and that says a lot about the state of hospitals in the country," the 19-year-old said.

"And we ask why doctors and nurses don't want to stay."

- Red list –

Doctors in Nigeria's public and in some private hospitals make $2,000 to $4,000 each year, so an average of about $200 a month, said Moses Onwubuya, president of the Nigerian Medical Students' Association.

"They're better than that," he said.

Most healthcare workers are based in the major cities. There are around 7,600 doctors in Lagos, the country's most populous city, and 4,700 in the capital Abuja, according to the health minister.

In the rest of Nigeria, there are around two doctors for every 10,000 people.

"Our facilities in the country are below standard and short-staffed, resulting in massive burnout," said Dele Abdullahi, president of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors and a general practitioner at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital in southwest Nigeria.

In 2020, the World Health Organization placed Nigeria on its red list of states facing a serious shortage of doctors and nurses.

Healthcare workers are "heading mainly for the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, but also increasingly to Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia. They are also going to Scandinavia," Onwubuya said.

Almost 5,000 doctors moved to Britain between 2015 and 2021, according to the Development Research and Projects Centre, a Nigerian non-profit.


- Brain drain -

In a bid to limit the brain drain, lawmaker Ganiyu Johnson proposed a bill in 2023 that would require medical graduates to work for five years in Nigeria before obtaining a full licence to practise.

Parliament has not yet passed the bill, which was heavily criticised by doctors' associations.

The law for nurses changed on March 1, requiring them to practise for at least two years in Nigeria before they can leave the country.

"We need to increase salaries, buy equipment, renovate hospitals and set up scholarships for students. That's what the government should be doing, not this type of law," said Stella Naomi Oluwadare, a private dental nurse who said that even with 10 years of experience, she earns around $200 a month.

This summer, the mother of three is preparing to join her husband, an orthodontist, who emigrated to Canada in 2022.

Chomas Abiodun, 35, a nurse at a private hospital in Lagos, said she feared that future generations of students would suffer.

"If all qualified professionals leave the country, who's going to teach in schools and supervise young people during their hospital internships?" she said. "Something has to change."

In March, the health minister said he would look into increasing health professionals' salaries, but there is no sign yet that Nigeria has managed to stop the mass departures.

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