Speaking during a courtesy call to his office on Thursday by the executives of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), led by the President, Dr. Emeka Orji, Gbajabiamila, however, cautioned that the issue of funding must be properly situated within the context of the prevailing global economic situation since Nigeria is not an island.
Responding to the figures of the resident doctors that had left Nigeria due to poor remuneration, Gbajabiamila said, “That is a very scary figure and that is not very encouraging for a country of over 200 million people to have the core of your medical team, your young ones, resident doctors, leaving in droves like that, definitely something must be wrong.”
“You have identified that to be the issue of emoluments and salaries, that’s always a very important issue. If you work, you must get paid, and you must get paid a good salary.
“It’s also important that we put those things in context in terms of everybody’s need to get paid, and that’s very important. That’s one of the reasons, if not the most important reason why you work, because we all have families to take care of. But we must put it in the Nigerian context in terms of the revenues available to the country.
“This is a worldwide phenomenon, right now everything is going down. Countries are not making as much revenue as they should.
“And I’m sure a lot of doctors that leave the shores of Nigeria in search of greener pastures, many of them will be happy, many of them will also realize it’s not so easy on the other side either.”
While commending those who decided to stay behind despite the situation, Gbajabiamila said, “What I would like to encourage you to do is to tarry a while, be a little bit more patient, and stay.”
“As long as you have our ears here as your legislature, we will always, as best as possible, come to your aid.”
“So, let’s put a stop to this brain drain as best as we can whilst we, on this side, try to make the environment a lot easier for you.”
The Speaker also assured the association that the clamour for an increase in the budgetary allocation for the health sector to meet the 2001 Abuja Declaration of 15 per cent of the annual budget allocation to health would be looked into, being a critical sector of the economy.
While cautioning stakeholders against the tradition of equating the Ministry’s budgetary allocation to the entire budget of the sector, Gbajabiamila nevertheless assured that the House would ensure that the sector was not shortchanged in the allocation of resources to it.
He added: “We’ll have a look at what percentage we have in this year’s budget for the health sector. We got the budget about a week ago, I’m still going through it, but I will zero in on health to find out what the percentage is, and how far away we are from the Abuja Declaration.
“I cannot promise that here. If we have fallen short, we will augment it, I cannot make that promise because it depends on a whole host of other things, but we will try our best to at least, come close. We will try our best to look at it objectively within the context of the revenue that is available to the country.
“There are so many things going on right now. That’s where the sacrifice comes in. Oil theft, dwindling revenue, the Ukraine war, and so many other things and everybody’s competing for the lean revenue, but we know our priority areas, education, and health, are priority areas. We’ll do everything we can to make sure that as best as we can, we come as close to the Abuja Declaration, as we can”.
The Speaker also promised to look into the other demands of the group on adequate funding of residency training, restoration of the Overseas Exchange Programme, the need to amend the Medical Registration Act, and an upward review of the salary structure for resident doctors, all within available resources.
He urged the association to furnish his office with detailed information on some of the issues, saying, “I’d like to have some information on that in writing so that when we are making a case to the government we will be able to furnish them with even more details, to know exactly what case we are trying to make.”
To emphasise the place of the health sector in the scheme of things, the Speaker said, “The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the underbelly of our health sector, so we must not be caught napping again, and whatever we need to do, we must do.”
Earlier, the President of the association, while appreciating the Speaker and the House for their successful interventions in NARD issues with the government in the past, Dr. Orji urged the Speaker to intervene in the brain drain syndrome that had hit the medical practice in the country due to poor working conditions.
He also presented to the Speaker other demands of the association on adequate funding of residency training, restoration of the Overseas Exchange Programme, the need to amend the Medical Registration Act and upward review of the salary structure for resident doctors, among others.