Senator Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, has denied saying Nigeria has medical doctors in surplus.
On Wednesday, Ngige had said on Channels Television that he was unconcerned about the migration of Nigerian doctors to other countries, claiming they were a source of foreign exchange.
Asked to comment on brain drain and if the deliberate recruitment of Nigerian doctors by foreign embassies is detrimental to the nation's health sector, Ngige had said: “No, I am not worried [about doctors leaving the country]. We have surplus.
"If you have surplus, you export. It happened some years ago here. I was taught chemistry and biology by Indian teachers in my secondary school days. There are surplus in their country and we also have surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. In my area, we have excess.
“Who said we don’t have enough doctors? We have more than enough. You can quote me. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out. When they go abroad, they earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil.”
However, on Thursday, he claimed he had been misquoted, and that what he actually said was that since there was insufficient space for residency training for medical doctors in the country, graduates of medicine who could not find space were free to seek such training in other countries and become professionals in their chosen field.
Ngige said he is aware that Nigeria is in dire need of specialists in various branches of medicine.
He insisted that Nigeria has enough medical personnel to handle non-specialist areas in the rural areas of the country, but he lamented the refusal of young doctors and other medical professionals to work in the rural areas.
“I speak from the vintage position of being a medical doctor and member, Nigerian Medical Association, since June 1979 and enriched by my vast knowledge on health administration, having retired as a Deputy Director, Medical Services and Training from the Federal Ministry of Health in 1998, member of Vision 2010 Committee on Health as well as senior member, Senate Committee on Health 2011-2015," he said in a statement released by Nwachukwu Obidiwe, his media aide.
“Therefore, the truth no matter how it hurts, must be told and reality, boldly faced. I invite opinion moulders especially those who have spoken or written on this issue to watch the full clip of my interview with the channels.
“And it is for this reason that I admitted having a little cause to worry about brain drain among medical doctors. The fact is that while the Federal Government has recorded a remarkably steady improvement in our healthcare system, Nigeria is yet to get there.
“We do not at present have enough health facilities to accommodate all the doctors seeking to do tertiary specialist training (residency) in the Teaching Hospitals, Federal Medical Centres and few accredited state and private specialist centres in the country where roughly 20% of the yearly applicants are absorbed while the remaining 80%, try their luck elsewhere.”
He explained most of these rejected applicants usually throng the Federal Ministry of Health and Labour and Employment to complain of being illegally schemed out.
“What the Minister meant therefore is that these professionals have the right to seek for training abroad to sharpen their skills, become specialists and later turn this problem to a national advantage when they repatriate their legitimate earnings and later return to the country.
“Even where some of these doctors are bonded to their overseas training institutions, examples abound on the large number of them who have successfully returned to settle and establish specialist centres across the country. It is therefore a question of turning your handicap to an advantage.”
While insisting the problem was not limited to doctors seeking specialisation, he said young medical officers who graduate from medical schools spend two to three years looking for a space for housemanship.
“Luckly, the Federal Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and Employment is developing a federal assisted programme for these young doctors and other allied health professionals such as pharmacists, physiotherapists in a move to broaden training opportunities.”
He insisted that Nigeria has enough medical personnel to man non-specialist centres in the rural areas, saying the problem of healthcare delivery in the country is the refusal of young doctors to work in the hinterland.
He said: “Even the National Youth Service Corps doctors, all, today seek postings to the cities as against what obtained some decades ago. Besides, doctors who did not get the few vacancies in the tertiary centres especially those owned by the Federal Government find it difficult to work in the rural hospitals.“
Ngige's original comments fetched him opprobrium from different sections of the public, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and National Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) describing it as "unfortunate".
“That is an unfortunate statement which shows that he has done nothing in medical practice," Adedayo Faduyile, the NMA President, notably said.
A fact check by SaharaReporters confirmed Ngige's claims on surlus of medical doctors as false.