Nigeria’s Brain Drain

By Opeyemi Solaru

Now more than ever, Nigeria is experiencing a “brain drain,” in which highly skilled professionals and students migrate from Nigeria to other countries in the West, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, for better opportunities. Whether in the health sector, entertainment sector or educational sector, this loss of human capital to other countries certainly has a significant impact on the economy. Unfortunately, there is not just one reason that people point to when they hypothesize why the number of migrants is increasing, but instead there are quite a number: poor infrastructure, high inflation rates, increasing insecurity, poor education and work conditions, and high unemployment rates, to name a few.

The quality of education in Nigeria has declined considerably in recent decades. A country’s education system is an integral part of its human capital development, often a direct reflection of how well its citizens are equipped to make useful contributions to society. Conversely, even with proper education, it is difficult to make useful contributions to a country ridden with poverty, corruption and a struggling economy — so it certainly goes both ways. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics found that approximately 500,000 African students sought admission to foreign universities. The tendency for these students to seek long-term opportunity in their countries of study, without returning to Nigeria, also contributes to the shortage of highly skilled individuals left in Nigeria.

The effect of this brain drain has been especially felt within the health care sector. Since 2010, it has cost Nigeria over $2 billion to train doctors that later move to other countries. In fact, more than 50% of doctors registered to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria are practicing outside of the country. The healthcare system has suffered the consequences of this, with a doctor to patient ratio of 1 to 6000 in comparison to the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 1 to 600.

As a result of the deteriorating healthcare system, medical tourism is also on the rise. But this is not sustainable, and is unfair to citizens that simply cannot afford to travel abroad for medical treatment. And the healthcare system has not always been this way. In the 1960s and 70s, University College Hospital in Ibadan was ranked number 5 in the Commonwealth, regarded as the medical “Mecca” in Africa. However, over 50 years later, poor funding and management has resulted in today’s healthcare system. Medical tourism has cost Nigeria billions of naira.

Public Health Physician, Dr. Nkata Chuku, offers a few solutions to address this brain drain and medical tourism. Firstly, developing a national framework for ensuring patient’s rights. The resulting improvement in the quality of the healthcare system is likely to increase the trust between citizens and the system. Government involvement is of the utmost importance, especially in an attempt to create a resilient, effective healthcare system. This has proven evident throughout the duration of the looming pandemic.

Another area to consider is promoting innovation within the healthcare space, specifically through telemedicine. Telemedicine attracted $40 million in investment last year. Nigerian startups, 54gene and Helium Health were among those that received the largest sum of funding.

While Nigerian healthtech startups do make notable contributions to the healthcare system, they can not entirely completely erase the consequences of poor governance and infrastructure. Thus, the regulatory environment is not only critical for improving the overall quality of healthcare but also for fostering an environment in which health innovation can thrive and expand.