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Japa: Doctors Fault FG Ban On Leave Of Absence

The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Joint Health Sector Unions have faulted the Federal Government’s ban on the issuance of leave of absence to health professionals going abroad.

NARD and JOHESU said the Federal Government should rather address the pull factors making health workers migrate abroad in search of greener pastures, a trend popularly called Japa.

The Minister of State for Health, Dr. Tunji Alausa, had last Saturday revealed that the government directed that health workers going abroad to seek greener pastures must henceforth resign their appointments before embarking on such journeys.

Alausa said the era of health workers moving to other countries in search of better offers after applying for a leave of absence was no longer acceptable.

The minister said the ban on the leave of absence for health workers emanated from an Executive Order issued by President Bola Tinubu as part of drastic steps to combat the challenge of brain drain fondly called ‘Japa’ confronting the nation’s health sector.

However, the President of NARD, Dr Dele Abdullahi, and the National Chairman of JOHESU, Dr Kabiru Minjibir, on Tuesday, said the directive by the government was a knee-jerk and fire-brigade approach to addressing brain drain in the country.

While the NARD president appreciated the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare for making efforts to protect the health sector, he said the ministry was misinformed on how to protect and keep professionals within the system.

“Healthcare workers, like other civil servants, are being guided by the civil service rule, and healthcare workers leaving the country don’t take leave of absence, most of them resign and some abscond. Most of the people taking leave of absence are the ones going to come back. If you now say you want to deny everybody leave of absence, then, are you saying healthcare workers are not allowed to go for training outside of the country? What if the leave of absence is to go for training within the country?

“I get where this is coming from because different excuses have been given as regards why we have a shortage of healthcare workers in the country, which is not true. They say they want to increase the recruitment of health workers but have they taken raw statistics of what the recruitment has been in the last two years, and how many of the newly recruited are within the system?

“You say that you want to increase the number of medical students but have you looked at the training capacity of these institutions and what the output looks like? I think the ideas are good, but they are not well-researched, and the major stakeholders in the system are not being consulted to make these moves and if we continue this way, we will not get anywhere,” he said.

Abdullahi stressed that the government must address the push factors of brain drain to retain healthcare workers in the country.

“The countries pulling them need them, and they know they are good at what they do. As it stands right now, a dental medical practitioner was kidnapped in Abuja. Three months ago, a doctor was kidnapped in Kaduna. The cost of living has gone up, the security is low, the power supply is worse, and the facilities we work in are substandard. Every week, there is an assault case in the hospitals. At the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, a nurse was beaten to the point of death by a patient’s relative because they lost one person.

“Most of the doctors in the university are impoverished, and most of them don’t have allowances. There is also the issue of non-payment of our arrears and the fact that our salaries are meagre. So, all of these are the factors we need to address.

“Remuneration is the major factor people making people to leave. The stakeholders need to be involved to check the push factors,” the NARD president said.

Similarly, JOHESU leader, Minjibir, said the government needed to address the health workers’ demands to stop brain drain.

He said, “We do not support the minister’s statement because what they need to do to tackle brain drain is to address the issues on the ground, and not to be issuing provocative statements.

“We have made our points that what causes brain drain is the issue of non-implementation of the stipulated allowances, the salary is not something to write home about, the condition of service for health workers is very bad, and they should provide the necessary equipment for health workers. So, let them address the issues so that health workers can stop travelling abroad to seek greener pastures.”

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