The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, says the bill for compulsory five-year service for graduates in medical and dental fields before being granted full licence was legislated with good intention.
He made his position known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja.
The amendment bill, sponsored by a House of Representatives member, Ganiyu Johnson, states: “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act, Cap. M379, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“It is to mandate any Nigeria-trained Medical or Dental Practitioner to Practice in Nigeria for a minimum of five years before being granted full licence by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).
“It is to make quality health services available to Nigeria; and for Related Matters (HB.2130).”
The bill passed for second reading on April 6, and it has since attracted widespread reactions.
According to Dr. Ehanire, the intention is good because it is talking about curbing brain drain.
He said, “If I can read the mind of Johnson properly, he wants to be able to keep those who have studied here a bit longer for some time before they can be free to go.
“If you look at the fees we pay at our universities, definitely they don’t make up for the cost of training.
“If you want to know what it costs to train a doctor, go to a private university and know what they pay for school fees.
“That is a benchmark of what it costs but in our public universities, we don’t pay anything near that.
“So, actually, it means that it is subsidised with taxpayers’ money, because if the government allows you to get the training for about one-tenth or one-twentieth of the cost of the private university, then it means it is subsidised.
“Therefore, I am sure Ganiyu was thinking about those in that category, who should also give back to the country, having received classy education that is respected outside.
“This is because even the cost of training here is very small compared to school fees paid in foreign countries to become a doctor. I think this is the angle the representative was looking at the issue from.”
Dr. Ehanire further said that it may not necessarily have to be by law because the moral understanding is also to make it clear if one has received quality education and then give back to the sponsor.
“So, I think maybe, the same moral issue people have to look at is whether the bill goes through or not, but this remains a moral issue”, he added.
Meanwhile, some Diaspora Medical Associations also added their voices to the issue.
In a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, they noted that the bill, which purportedly seeks a way to address the adverse effects of brain drain, may not be the most effective intervention to resolve the situation.
The letter was titled, “Re: A Position Statement From Diaspora Medical Associations- Bill Seeking to Restrict Newly Qualified Medical Doctors and Dentists from Leaving Nigeria.”
It was signed by the President, Nigerian Doctors’ Forum, South Africa, Dr. Emeka Ugwu; the President, Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas, Dr. Chinyere Anyaogu and the President, Medical Association of Nigerians Across Great Britain, Dr. Chris Agbo.
Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, the President, Canadian Association of Nigerian Physicians and Dentists and Dr. Al Amin Dahiru, the President, Nigerian Medical Association-Germany, also signed the letter.
The letter stated that the bill will be counterproductive and will not achieve its intended goal.
It read, “We recognise the problems posed by the exodus of Nigerian medical professionals from our health system, including, but not limited to decreased access to healthcare services and lack of quality of care.
“Care delivery deserts the inability to adequately enact healthcare and public health policy due to lack of manpower and leadership resources.
“The medical or dental practitioner is the glue that keeps the team functional and the leading force for effective healthcare delivery system.”
The group also said that diaspora healthcare workers would be willing to return to Nigeria if an enabling environment exists, and would help to reverse the trend, as well as help to solve the problem.