NIGERIA’s Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has said there is nothing worrisome about the population of doctors in the country as there are in fact more doctors than are needed. But is he right?
Speaking on Wednesday on Sunrise Daily, a programme aired by Channels Television, Ngige said young Nigerian medical practitioners are free to travel abroad for employment and then send money back to the country because there is a surplus of physicians already. He stressed this point repeatedly and challenged anyone to quote him.
“I’m not worried, we have a surplus (of doctors). If we have a surplus, we export,” the minister said. “I was taught Biology and Chemistry by Indian teachers in my secondary school days. They are surplus in their country.”
He added: “We have a surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. It is my area. We have excess. We have enough, more than enough, quote me. There is nothing wrong, they go out to sharpen their skills, earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them, not from oil.
“Those guys go there, they are better trained because of the facilities they have there. Eventually, I know a couple of them who practise abroad but set up medical centres back home. They have CAT scan, MRI scan which even the government hospitals cannot maintain. So, I don’t see any loss.”
What our findings showed
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended a doctor to population ratio of 1:600.
But in Nigeria, according to WHO’s Global Atlas of the Health Workforce Statistics, there are four physicians (people qualified to practise medicine) for every 10,000 persons. This finding is also supported by data from the World Bank stating the ratio of doctors to patients to be 0.395 to 1000 persons, while 1.49 to 1000 persons is the global average. Austria has 5.2 doctors per 1000 persons, Italy has 4, and Switzerland 4.2.
Also, a 2017 survey report published by Nigeria Health Watch and NOIPolls, titled ‘Emigration of Nigerian Medical Doctors’, confirmed that Nigeria’s “medical workforce to population ratio is much lower than the recommended standard”.
It stated that, according to figures from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), there are about 72,000 doctors registered in Nigeria, but only approximately 35,000 stayed to practise in the country.
“When these figures are compared with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended doctor to population ratio of 1:600, we easily deduce how poorly we are performing against this benchmark,” the report stated.
“Nigeria’s National Population Commission (NPC) has projected our current population to be about 182 million at a 3.5 per cent growth rate from the 2006 census. This means we need about 303,333 medical doctors now, and at least 10,605 new doctors annually to join the workforce. Only at this level can we expect good quality patient care that is not compromised by errors occasioned by fatigued and overworked medical doctors.”
In 2015, Folashade Ogunsola, a professor of medicine and then chairman of the Association of Colleges of Medicine of Nigeria, also validated this claim. “We will need about 237,000 medical doctors and we have about 35,000 working in the country today,” she said.
Two years later, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) announced, that Nigeria has a ratio of one doctor to 6000 people according to an analysis conducted by the association.
In September 2018, however, Minister of Health Isaac Adewole provided an updated figure of the country’s physician population. He disclosed that data obtained from the MDCN as of May 30 showed that 88,692 doctors are registered in the country.
“Of these doctors, only 45,000 are currently practising and that gives us a ratio one doctor to 4,088 persons,” he said.
Ngige’s claim that Nigeria has surplus medical doctors is false. Rather, statistics provided by the Minister of Health, NMA, MDCN, and WHO showed that the doctor-to-population ratio in Nigeria ranges from 0.15:600, 0.1:600, 0.12:600, to 0.24:600 respectively—all very different from the recommended ratio of 1:600.