The chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Sen. Ibrahim Olorigbe, has expressed his doubts about the efficacy of a proposed legislative proposal to address the problem of brain drain in Nigeria’s healthcare sector.
Olorigbe told Science Nigeria that the factors responsible for the issue were multifaceted and that the mere denial of full practice licenses to medical practitioners would not resolve and may even worsen them.
The bill, sponsored by Hon. Ganiyu Johnson, seeks to prevent Nigerian-trained medical and dental practitioners from being granted full licenses until they have worked in Nigeria for at least five years.
He argued that the issue of brain drain was not limited to medical doctors and urged a more holistic approach. He also suggested that compulsory five-year service for doctors was insufficient and recommended alternative measures that could make the Nigerian health sector more attractive.
Olorigbe expressed his concern that the proposal would violate the ‘Freedom of Movement’ (Sec. 41) and ‘The right to freedom from discrimination’ under (Sec. 42) as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999, as amended.
He implied that the bill’s sponsor did not fully understand the issues and facts related to granting a practising license. Olorigbe, therefore, felt compelled to offer his perspective as a medical practitioner of many years and not just as a senator with the privilege of heading committee.
“As a medical practitioner with many years of experience, not just a senator heading the Senate Committee on Health, I believe that the proposed legislation violates the right to freedom of movement and the right to freedom from discrimination as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“These rights cannot be denied by any person or government and seeking legal redress through an illegal procedure is not acceptable. A qualified medical doctor cannot be denied a license to practice unless found wanting in the ethics of the profession. Before the bill can be passed, important issues such as the start of the 5-year period, the type of license awarded to fully trained doctors and the limits on scope of practice during the waiting period must be scrutinised.”
Olorigbe asked several questions about the bill’s implications, such as when the five-year period would start and what kind of license would be awarded to a fully trained doctor instead of a full license to practice. He also asked whether there would be limits on the doctor’s scope of practice during the five-year waiting period and why such limits would be necessary. Olorigbe argued that resolving the issue of brain drain in Nigeria’s healthcare sector would require addressing the various factors that make skilled health workers desire to migrate out of the country.
The senator recommended several alternative measures to address the brain-drain in Nigeria’s healthcare sector, such as obliging medical students to choose between paying the standard market rate for their training or opting for government-subsidised training.
Those who opt for subsidised training after their qualification would be compelled to work in Nigeria for a certain time or refund the subsidies.
“Subsidised training would require mandatory work or subsidy refund. This is common in countries like the UK. We can guarantee job opportunities and provide inflation-adjusted earnings for a few years after graduation to enforce the mandatory work scheme,” on the condition that they stay in Nigeria to practice.
Olorigbe noted that improving the country’s health system with sustainable investments was necessary to make it conducive for various health workers to work. He emphasised that providing attractive remuneration, a good work environment, and career expectations should be prioritised.
He was sure that incorporating both measures should yield satisfactory results.