By Mayowa Tijani
It was the night of December 22, 2002. I was rushed to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. I was terribly sick; the hospital had no oxygen as at the time I was admitted, and I was severely low on oxygen. I missed a date with death by a few seconds. I needed a miracle and God showed up — it was a medical miracle.
My packed cell volume (PCV), which is the volume percentage of red blood cells in blood, was at five percent, about seven times less than what was expected. I was medically damaged. I had suffered in the days leading to this eventual admission. I was only 12.
I remember all that pain and trauma like it happened yesterday. The sickness was not all that was wrong; the tears flowing down my strong mother’s eyes broke my spirit. My father braved it all, but I knew he was hurt beyond words. My favourite aunt, was a nurse at UCH, she helped in ways she could, and periodically told me to be strong. She too was torn beyond words. My family was in pain, and I was the cause of it. I blamed myself.
I was one of the eldest children at Otunba Tunwase Children’s Emergency Ward. I was not scared of death, but I was scared of the pain it would put all these people through. The money my parents had spent, the love my siblings had shown, the care my aunt and cousins showered to this dying boy — I was scared of letting all that go to waste. So I fought for my life, and begged that God kept me strong and healthy for them. I survived, thanks to God and his messengers, who were in the form of skilled doctors.
My survival was made possible through the seasoned hands and steady minds of the likes of Professor Yetunde Aken’ova, Dr. Taiwo Kotila and many other medical specialists who beat the conditions of their employment to save lives in Nigeria’s under-served hospitals.
Based on this, and some other social experiences, Nigeria is personal for me; it is not my ambition to see a better Nigeria, it is a calling, a responsibility. So when I am making demands on government and policymakers to act on one issue or the other, I am not being political, I am not trying to be correct, I am just simply asking that they put facilities in place to make Nigerians need fewer miracles.
THE CRISIS ON OUR HANDS
Today, President Muhammadu Buhari is in the United Kingdom, treating an unknown ailment. I want to believe it is not just because he is president. As a former head of state, if he was not president today, and he takes ill, he would most probably go to the same doctors in the UK — because he has little or no faith in our medical system, and then we may not blame him as much as we do today.
But Buhari is really not my worry today. My grouse is with the system that produces his ilk.
There is a crisis in Nigeria’s healthcare system, and for today, my focus will be on the doctors. As far back as 2010, World Bank data have shown that Nigeria has one doctor to 2,531 people. The World Health Organisation prescribes one doctor to 600 people. The likes of Mexico, Mongolia, Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and even Libya meet the WHO requirement. And many of them do so on the backs of Nigerian doctors abroad.
This means that the Nigerian doctor works at least four times more than his counterpart in any of these countries and earns way less than they do. The numbers are even worse today. We have about one doctor to over 6,000 Nigerians.
There is, therefore, no reason to wonder why a poll conducted by NOI polls and Nigeria Health Watch in 2017 found that 88 percent — almost nine in 10 — Nigerian doctors were actively seeking an opportunity to go abroad to practice. At the time the survey was conducted, a majority of Nigerian doctors were — and are currently — registered for medical exams like PLAB in the UK, USMLE for the United States, MCCE for Canada, AMC for Australia and DHA for Dubai. Most of our best minds are leaving!
5,264 NIGERIAN DOCTORS WORKING IN THE UK
Most recently, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, said 4,795 Nigerian doctors were currently working in the UK. Making specific reference to July, 2017. According to the UK General Medical Council, holding data on doctors in the UK, 5,250 Nigerian doctors were working in the UK as at April 25, 2018.
Checking the same data today, May 5, 2018, that number has grown to 5,264 — an increase of 14 doctors in 10 days. Africa Checks has shown that an average of 12 doctors move to the UK every week! Every seven days — or five working days — 12 Nigeria-trained doctors move to the UK!
After the same order, thousands of Nigerian doctors are working in the US, Canada, Australia, United Arab Emirates, and many other nations of the world. More than half of the 72,000 registered doctors in Nigeria now work abroad.
A LAND WITHOUT DOCTORS
In 2017, a friend of mine, who is a fresh doctor from UCH, told me about his plans to move to Canada by 2018. I attempted convincing him to stay, and was making some progress until I said: “Nigeria needs you”. He laughed and said “Nigeria does not need its own president, so how will Nigeria need him, an ordinary doctor”. This was at the time the president was in the UK for medical care.
Recently, I asked him some questions, and while answering, he said: “What is a doctor doing in Nigeria?”
And that is my question today: What exactly is a doctor doing in Nigeria? When he can get 10 times his Nigerian pay by moving to Canada, US, UK or UAE, to do almost 10 times less work! What exactly is a doctor doing in Nigeria, when the government will call him names, and ask him to respect the Hippocratic oath when the same government has not respected the oath it swore to the people?
What is a doctor doing in Nigeria, when he knows what to do to save a life but is handicapped by the absence of oxygen, blood, sterile needles, and the very basic needs of his profession.
I think of what would have happened to me if the likes of Professor Aken’ova and her team of young doctors were not available that night in December 2002. Your guess is as good as mine. So today, I ask that Nigeria must act, lest she becomes a land without doctors.
To be continued…
Follow Tijani on Twitter and other major social media platforms @OluwamayowaTJ
Originally published in The Cable