The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Ali Pate, says that about 400,000 healthcare workforce in Nigeria is insufficient to cater for the healthcare needs of Nigerians.
Pate made the statement while addressing newsmen on Saturday in Abuja, after his three-day briefing session with departments and agencies under the ministry.
The meeting was organised by the ministry to chart a blueprint for Nigeria’s healthcare system.
According to Pate, the 400,000 workforce comprise community health workers, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, physicians, lab scientists, technicians and auxiliaries working in the Nigerian healthcare system.
“They are not enough if you think that this number can take care of 220 million people. Our doctor to population ratio is lower than what the World Health Organisation expects.
“So there’s still room to produce more. In fact, to produce excess because globally, there’s a shortage of health manpower, there is almost a shortage of 18 million people.
“In developed countries where they are ageing, they are retiring so they need more people to provide services.
“So if we think about it, we can produce for our own needs and if some leave then they go and earn resources and they come back with some experience.”
Pate, however, said that if infrastructure was improved, and people were treated with respect, some of them would come back to serve the country.
“So I don’t want to undervalue the contribution of the workers that we have.
“We have to acknowledge them, celebrate them, make life easier for them even as we train more or re-train the ones that we have even as we work to resolve their issues.
“We really value the Nigerian health workforce and will continue to support and develop that going forward,” he added.
Speaking on ending medical tourism, Pate said that the trend was present in almost all countries whether developed or developing as people leave the U.S. to East Asia to have surgical procedures because it is more affordable there.
“However, what seems to be an issue is using public financing to fund it and missing the opportunity to keep some of the resources used in engaging in medical tourism back in the country.
“When I mentioned unlocking the healthcare value-chain, it includes mobilising private capital to invest in the physical infrastructure and the human resources so that some of the services that people go to India for, we will have them here.
“We have begun discussing mechanisms or models where we’ll go on that path as part of expanding the value-chain so that it’s not necessarily publicly financed.
“So if you want to have plastic surgery, there’s no need to use government money to pay for your plastic surgery but if we have a facility that will do that here for you, we will keep your dollars here and employ a few attendants here to do the procedure for you.”
The minister added that because people had options as to where they would seek healthcare, medical tourism might not be completely eradicated.
He, however, assured that the Federal Government would use the opportunity of human capital, private sector capital and innovation to provide services that people could use in the country.
“People leave the developed world and go to South Africa to get surgical procedures and laboratory services. So those kinds of things are possible but we are nowhere there yet.
On getting financing from development partners for the sector, Pate said that the team had met with some of the partners to give them the direction Nigeria needed their support in.
According to him, the bulk of the health budget in Nigeria is from government at different levels, while a smaller portion is what the development partners bring to the table.
“Let’s get to a point whereby we have a programme and the government’s budget is put on the table and you are contributing to that and there’s transparency on both sides.
“Government needs to know more about how the external parties deploy their resources, just as it also needs to open up a little bit more on what is coming from its own side,’’ he said.