Japa: 16,000 doctors left Nigeria in five years – Minister

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The Federal Government on Sunday disclosed that the phenomenon of brain drain, often referred to as ‘Japa Syndrome’, has deprived Nigeria of its top talent in the health sector, with no fewer than 16,000 doctors leaving the country in search of better opportunities abroad.

The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof Ali Pate, disclosed this during an appearance on Channels TV’s Politics Today on Sunday.

Pate lamented that Nigeria has witnessed a generation of young doctors, health workers, tech entrepreneurs, and various professionals abandoning the country for better opportunities abroad.


His words: “In the last five years, the country lost about 15,000 to 16,000 doctors to the Japa syndrome, while about 17,000 had been transferred,” he said.

“There are about 300,000 health professionals working in Nigeria today in all cadres. I am talking about doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, laboratory scientists, and others. We did an assessment and discovered we have 85,000 to 90,000 registered Nigerian doctors.

“Not all of them are in the country. Some are in the diaspora, especially in the US and UK. But there are 55,000 licenced doctors in the country.

“The issue overall, in terms of health professionals, is that they are not enough. They are insufficient in terms of the skill mix. Can you believe most of the highly skilled professional doctors are in Lagos, Abuja, and a few urban centres? There is a huge distribution issue.

The minister, who provided a detailed account of the doctors currently practicing in major Nigerian cities, highlighted that the doctor-to-patient ratio was insufficient for the country.

“The population of doctors overall is about 7,600 in Lagos and 4,700 or thereabout in Abuja. The doctor to population ratio in Abuja is 14.7 per 10,000 people. These are numbers that you can verify. In Lagos, it is about 4.6, even though the average is 2.2 by 10,000.

“There are huge distributional issues, and they are, of course, the opportunities even for some of those who have been trained to get into the market.

“So you have to look at it from a holistic perspective. Not only doctors but other cadres are important in the delivery of health care. For doctors, we have been losing many that have been trained.”

Pate affirmed that the government is making efforts to expand the training scheme and motivate those who choose to stay back and serve their country.

“Now to the Japa you talked about, it is not only limited to Nigeria. It is a global phenomenon. Other countries don’t have enough.

“They are asking to take more. It is not only in Nigeria. It is happening in India, the Philippines, and other parts of Africa. In the last five years, we have lost about 15,000 to 16,000, and about 17,000 have been transferred. We’re barely managing.

“That’s why expanding their training will become logical. The same thing happens with nurses and midwives; they are also leaving. That’s why expanding the training is important to ensure those still around are well trained.

“We are beginning to take steps to expand the training and work environment, taking some steps to encourage salaries and incomes commissions to do certain things that will encourage them to feel at home.

“But even the issue of working hours that has come about recently, particularly for the junior doctors, is being addressed.

“This is because when some of their colleagues leave and they remain at home, the burden has not been reduced.

“And so they work extremely hard. We’ve listened to that. We are looking at how we can alleviate that, and with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, we are looking at how, within the code of ethics and the guidelines for the physician, to provide some safeguards to ensure they are treated as valuable assets so they are not burnt out,” the minister said.