Africa’s Flying Leaders & Its Crippled Healthcare System

As Nigeria’s resident doctors commenced an indefinite strike on Thursday over unpaid salaries, the man voted to be responsible for their welfare, sought medical services overseas, miles away from home.

Resident doctors make up a significant proportion of the nation’s medical workforce and their absence will in no small way bring hospitals to their knees.

Their decision to embark on an industrial action is neither ridiculous nor new, as they have always voiced displeasure about their treatment. What is ridiculous is the coincidence of their strike action with the Nigerian President, Muhammadu’s Buhari’s trip to the United Kingdom, for “medical checkup”.

The President’s action was damning to the conditions and mood of the striking doctors. Not only was it a show of lack of concern, it underlined Nigeria’s careless approach to its health care, the system, the workforce and the entire nation.

Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria is a stark example of how the continent’s leaders leave hospitals at the mercy of ruin in their countries and then they embark on medical tourism to foreign hospitals built from Africa’s resources. 

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In March, John Ponde Magufuli died in a French hospital from cardiac arrest, with the rumour mills saying he was killed by COVID-19. Other than the fire-brand late Tanzanian leader,  former Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza and late Ivorian Prime Minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly are some of the high-profile Africans who have died abroad in recent times.

African leaders are quick to get on the next flight to Europe, India and the United States at the slightest ache while their citizens grapple with poor, stifling health systems stifled by the same ruling class.

In Nigeria, there’s an average ratio of 1 doctor to over 2400 patients with the medical professionals being overwhelmed, underpaid and frustrated by the system. 

The statistics are poorer in Kenya where one medical doctor is expected to attend to 16,000 patients. South Africa pegs its nemesis at 1 per 2500 patients and these are some of Africa’s “biggest economies”.

At different periods, medical doctors from these countries have cried bitterly to their governments to improve work conditions in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

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In 2001, representatives of African countries met in Abuja to peg their health budgets at 15% of the total budget.

Two decades after, one can count the number of African countries that have kept that promise on one hand. 

 In the available budget declared yearly, many African countries still struggle with building health infrastructure and paying medical officers to top it. 

Where Africa has opened its walls for foreign companies to invest, there have been minimal investment in the healthcare sector and where any is available, it is made for the wealthiest elites at cut-throat charges.

COVID-19 may appear to have been cornered on the continent with many Africans escaping its complications by the whiskers to the astonishment of the developed economies but it doesn’t change the fact that Africa’s health systems are still crippled and poorly developed.

Medical insurance on the continent is largely non-existent and inaccessible as corruption rips the system apart. 

As more healthcare workers sit at home in protest of terrible work conditions, many more Africans are at the risk of dying from simple, treatable medical challenges. Nigeria leads the bad examples, sadly.

In contrast, leaders who hop on to the next flight on tax payers’ money, in the most comfortable of medical facilities in the best countries, moving around the world on the wings of homely ruins and local devastation while having only indigestion and jetlag to complain about. 

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Another young mother may probably die in a rural hospital or a talented kid may not live a dream owing of factors he has little to no control over. 

The man whose parents look up to him for mercy is also dying away somewhere in the diaspora, far away from home, and outside the poor systems he has neglected.

In the midst all of these, there’s an increased brain drain on the continent as Africa’a finest medical minds leave for countries where they are better remunerated and where systems are good. Sometimes against their own wish, they have had to seek pastures away from where they’d have preferred to water their grass. 

African leaders can’t keep ignoring. Like the fine print on a car’s sideview mirror, the dangers behind are closer than they appear.

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