COVID-19 strains: Nigeria cannot afford more shortages of doctors

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Increasing deficit in doctor-to-patient ratio in Nigeria has exposed the short falls in Nigeria’s health sector. It would be recalled how last Friday the Nigeria Immigration Service, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos command, had refused the departure of 58 Nigerian doctors, who attempted travelling aboard a UK-bound aircraft flight number ENT 550, registration number SP-ES, which flew in from London. 56 of the doctors were discovered to have no visa for entry to the United Kingdom (UK), while only two had visas. Depths of facts later emerged to reveal why the Nigerian doctors, who aimed the journey were at the verge of travelling to the UK without visas—they were trailing the path of departing the Country to the UK for recruitment at NES Healthcare. A letter from the recruitment Director showed clearly that the medical doctors were granted visa waiver letters arranged by the NES Healthcare Recruitment Director.

The letter from the Director to the Nigerian medical doctors had read: “I am the Recruitment Director with NES Healthcare and I will like to inform you of an important update. As you are aware, the TLSContact Visa centres are currently closed and there is no guidance as to when they will be reopening. In addition, we are aware that there are no immediate plans to reopen Nigeria’s airspace to international commercial flights.

“We have therefore been in discussion with UKVI (UK Visa and Immigration) about a potential solution that would allow you to travel to the UK. With their agreement, we will issue you a visa waiver letter — this will enable you to travel to the UK and then apply for a visa once you are here. We are also planning to arrange for a private charter flight to the UK, leaving from Lagos w/c 6th July (exact date to be confirmed but this will most likely be 10th or 11th July. The cost of the flight will be heavily subsidised by NES Healthcare so we will only ask for a contribution of £500 towards this. To put this into action, I do need the following confirmation from you by 9a.m. tomorrow morning (June 19): You are able to join the flight leaving from Lagos w/c 6th July. You understand that you will contribute £500 towards the cost of the flight. The UK address that you will be staying at UK (this will be the address that we will use for your visa).”

The song of medical doctors fleeing Nigeria for greener pastures has been anchored on the reverberating echoes of worries. The concern, primed on the dangers faced within the country, with a huge deficit of doctor-to-patient ratio. The insufficient medical doctors have been increasingly embarking on farewell journeys to other nations of the world where the medical profession thrives to fit their desires. One would have thought by all reasons that the acuteness of the Coronavirus pandemic which shook Europe so much, and the corresponding lockdown that led to an indefinite suspension on international air travels, would have blocked every chances of any medical doctor from leaving Nigeria at this  time.

However, contrary has been the case, as it appears those who really appreciate the potentials of Nigerian doctors know how to go about defying all limiting circumstances to get them on board. The doctors, who ordinarily one would have thought they would ignore such offer at this time in the face of the severity of the virus in Europe and UK in particular, never yielded to such fears. They rather thought it to be an open opportunity with the grace of waivers to land in the UK without going through much rigours. It might have appeared to them as the coming of their long desires to their door step.

It is pathetic that while authorities of advance nations of the world, such as the UK, are making efforts to defy circumstances to attract medical doctors around the world to the extent of granting waivers, the Nigerian Government is still finding it difficult to settle and address the grievances of medical doctors in the Country — a development which even amidst a pandemic is forcing Doctors to embark on strikes. The seeming levity with which the Nigerian authorities handle critical matters is lamentable. Displeasures lodged by medical practitioners over time and particularly in this COVID-19 pandemic, appears not to have been greeted with the required approach and alacrity.

The unfavourable conditions under which medical practitioners work in the Country, worsened by manpower shortages and archaic facilities is appalling. The need to address the critical demands of the health sector in Nigeria is alarming. Nigeria will find it hard to sustain doctors in the Country in as much as their grievances and the pressing demands of the health sector are left unattended to. The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the world and its manifestations in Nigeria is becoming worrisome. With the pressure on the Country’s health system, in face of the strains and pressures posed by the geometric spread of COVID-19, the number of Nigerians increasingly having their health situations getting complicated without medical attention is on the rise.  The Country cannot afford more shortages in health workers. The Government should wake up to its responsibilities.