Since the early 2000s, the country of Nigeria has been suffering from a professional medical human resources problem, struggling to hold onto qualified doctors and nurses within the country. African healthcare in general has been in bona fide third world status with close to 90 percent of the population living well below any first world poverty line. Nigeria is no different.

The Reasons for the Exodus

The factors resulting in little opportunity for Nigerian medical professionals were formally acknowledged by the country in 2002 by then Health Minister Alphonsus Nwosu. However, in 2012, subsequent Health Minister Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu acknowledged the same problem still existed with more specificity: over 5,000 doctors and nurses from Nigeria work abroad in the US and Europe.

The most obvious influence tends to be economics. Simply working and being licensed as a medical professional in a first world country produces a level of income for the incumbent that is far greater than he would receive in Nigeria. He can conceivably work abroad, go through medical education all over again, and still make enough income to live comfortably and support his family back in Nigeria through wire transfers. Not surprisingly, many travel to do just that.

A second influence, however, involves the ageing of first world country populations. Both the UK and the US are seeing the entry of their Baby Boomer generations into retirement and senior living. That, in turn, means a huge medical demand from one of the largest generations in the last 50 years. The need for medical professionals who can hit the ground running in general health care is tremendous.

Finally, continued improvement in health systems continues to be a priority for first world countries, particularly with better access to treatment, proactive screening and hands-on care. All three elements create a need for more medical staff in high-end medical facilities and environments. The same can’t be said for African healthcare. In fact, many African governments are focused more on utilising natural resources to generate ready cash or dealing with a local civil war. Neither are conducive to boosting African healthcare.

The Prevention of the Exodus

For those doctors and nurses that do stay in-country, the urban regions are far more attractive to them due to modern amenities. As a result, while Nigeria has for every 100,000 people a ratio of 13 doctors and 92 nurses, those in the rural areas have only a third of those numbers. A minor gap is filled by aid agencies, but it doesn’t solve a lot of the medical care deficiencies that exist in the country more generally.

Many of the possible reforms to retain more of Nigeria’s medical professional in-country and in the rural areas include financial incentives aimed to boost education and cost of living, including:

  • Special education incentives for committing to medical work in rural areas afterwards
  • Financial housing support for professionals serving rural areas
  • Subsidised in-service advanced training, including tuition and transport to and from courses
  • Increased use of retired and non-working professionals available in-country
  • Moving more of general care to health workers to augment available professional staff

Deux Projects International and the Future of Nigerian Healthcare

Some have contributed personal resources to helping medical professionals find roles in rural Nigeria and improving African healthcare. Dr. Tunji Olowolafe, the CEO of Deux Projects International, has been helping with the construction and maintenance of hospitals and research facilities, adding to an aggregate improvement of medical standards in Nigeria’s current healthcare system. No one expects full subsidies tomorrow, solving every financial need of medical professionals in Nigeria. However, a number of steps can and are being taken to make it easier for medical professionals to stay where they are needed most in Nigeria and Africa more generally.

Written by: Beginning his working life on construction sites early, Ikenna found he had a talent for organisation of projects and people and quickly moved through the ranks, becoming an accomplished and experienced manager. Ikenna always had a love for the written word and the changes to people’s lives from the infrastructure projects that he worked on gave him plenty of subject material. He has parlayed that into a second career as a writer and is currently writing his first book on “The Effects of Improved Healthcare on the Economic Development of African Nations”