The Nigerian Medical Students Association has opposed the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which seeks to make it compulsory for graduates in medical and dental fields to render services within Nigeria for five years before being granted a full license.
The sponsor of the motion, Ganiyu Johnson (APC/Lagos), said the move was to check the mass exodus of medical professionals from the country.
The legislation is titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act, Cap. M379, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to Mandate Any Nigeria Trained Medical or Dental Practitioner to Practice in Nigeria for a Minimum of Five Years Before Granted a Full License by the Council in Order to Make Quality Health Services Available to Nigeria; and for Related Matters.’
Nigeria has been going through one of the worst situations of brain drain in its history with many doctors who obtained their degrees in Nigeria leaving the country to seek greener pastures.
Nigeria has the third highest number of foreign doctors working in the United Kingdom after India, and Pakistan.
While the Federal Government claimed that brain drain is not peculiar to Nigeria, the World Health Organisation warned that this could negatively impact the health systems and hinder progress toward achieving universal health coverage and health security.
A 2023 health workforce support and safeguards list report released by the WHO showed that Nigeria and 36 other African countries face the most pressing health workforce challenges related to Universal Health Coverage.
NiMSA, however, in a statement signed by its President, Ejim Egba said the proposed bill is unpatriotic, ill-timed, and a breach of the fundamental human right of doctors as enshrined in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria as amended.
According to the association, the bill is aimed at strangulating the medical profession.
“The search for greener pastures abroad can be reduced by making our land and pasture green, properly equipping our hospitals, better treatment for doctors and the brain drain will be adequately controlled. Rep. Johnson at this point should be steering conversations on medical
tourism and not doctor slavery. We firmly believe that this bill is not the solution to the problem of brain drain, and we stand against it in its entirety in the strongest possible terms.
“The intention behind the sponsorship of this bill does not take into consideration the root causes of brain drain in Nigeria. The issue of brain drain is multifaceted and requires a more comprehensive approach to tackle it. Instead of trying to forcefully take doctors as slaves, the
lawmakers should be focusing on creating an enabling environment that encourages doctors to stay and work in Nigeria.
“The lack of infrastructure, inadequate and inappropriate remuneration, and poor working conditions are some of the major factors driving medical professionals away from Nigeria. These issues need to be addressed if we want to attract and retain our healthcare professionals; make our land green,” the statement read in part.
The students added that the bill is a violation of the fundamental human rights of medical professionals and should not see the light of day.
They said the government has no right to force doctors to work in a particular location against their will.
“We also unequivocally state that this bill will discourage students from pursuing medical education in Nigeria, which will further exacerbate the problem of the shortage of healthcare professionals. A better way to bring up the issue of being trained with ‘taxpayer subsidies’ would be to have it optional, the option of paying for medical education at the real cost value, the option of obtaining student loans, and also the option of going for the subsidised medical education with the caveat of staying behind for a certain number of years to ‘pay back.
“Besides, not all doctors in the country are trained on subsidy; one thing the bill failed to capture. Doctors need to have a choice, even before they start their training so they can make better-informed decisions.
“Additionally, we strongly believe that the bill is arbitrary in nature and totally unconstitutional- it deprives the Nigerian-trained medical and dental practitioners of their fundamental right to freedom of movement by arbitrarily imposing restrictions on their movements against the provision of Section 41 the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“In conclusion, NiMSA vehemently opposes this bill in part and in one whole. We call on the Sponsor of the bill to withdraw it with immediate effect and seek better ways of finding a lasting solution to the problem of brain drain by consultative collaboration with relevant stakeholders in the health sector coupled with the government’s willingness to address the root causes and underlying issues that drive healthcare professionals away from Nigeria,” the association noted.