It has been widely reported of the bill seeking to curb brain drain by mandating Nigerian medical doctors to practice for, at least, five years in the country before going abroad. The bill is said to have received the majority support from members of the House of Representatives and have passed for second reading in the House. According to the sponsor of the bill, Ganiyu Johnson, the bill when passed into law will checkmate doctors’ exodus abroad. It is my personal opinion that such law is not only obnoxious and negates the fundamental human right and freedom of movement of citizens, it is also counter-productive and against labour laws. Notwithstanding the fact that the patient to doctor ratio in Nigeria is among the lowest in the world with one doctor serving 10,000 Nigerians, it is also worrisome that the health care facilities in Nigeria are not well equipped to handle most medical conditions which encourage medical tourism.
There have also been historic disputes between the government and the health workers in matters pertaining to workers’ welfare and the infrastructural deficit in the health sector leading to strikes and health workers down tooling. Despite the several resolutions reached between health workers and the Federal Government, there is no evidence to show improvement in the health sector. The budgeting for the health sector remains abysmally low with the highest not exceeding six per cent of the total budget.
The Federal Government has also failed to implement its own policies that have potential for crystallising growth and development in the health sector. Working documents like the National Health Policies, the SDGS and the National Health Insurance Law have been haphazardly implemented. Also the lack of accountability, transparency and public finance management of the health budget leaves one with many concerns.
The issues highlighted here should be the major focus of the legislators rather than introducing an obnoxious bill that will further deepen the problems of Nigerian medical practitioners. The bill to amend the medical and dental practitioner Act 2004 to mandate any Nigeria-trained medical or dental practitioner to practise in Nigeria for a minimum of five years before being granted a full licence by the council is inconsistent with the rights of the medical practitioner and against the labour laws. It is tantamount to occupational enslavement. It is my candid opinion that every professional who has gone through academic training for the stipulated period of time scheduled in accordance with his or her profession and has passed all required courses to obtain a degree in the profession is qualified for a certificate.
In the case of the medical and law profession, the compulsory one-year housemanship or law school, as the case may be, exposes such students to practical assessment that qualifies them to receive a practising licence. It is the right of the licensed practitioner to determine where he or she chooses to practice. If the bill sails through and becomes a law and the health challenges that make doctors leave Nigeria are not swiftly tackled, it would further complicate the problems in the health sector. First, it would give rise to a handful of unmotivated health workers who are only trying to please the government for such a period of time and deliver such eye service treatment to their patients; such dispassionate treatments can expose patients to the risk of losing their lives. Second, I fault the government for claiming to have spent money in training the medical workers throughout the period of their schooling. I am not aware of any free tuition for medical students or any form of subsidy or rebate for medical fees in any Nigerian university, either government-owned university or private. If the government has not in any way subsidised or given free tuition privileges to medical students, it has no right to decide where such a student decides to live and work. If this bill becomes law, it might make it easier for medical students to change their country of study.
- Victor Emejuiwe writes from the Centre for Social Justice, Abuja
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]