Ikedinachukwu Nwankwor Analyses Nigeria’s Mental Health Crisis And Its Medical Struggles

As one of Africa’s richest countries in natural resources, Nigeria, nevertheless, has more than its fair share of medical struggles and mental health woes. These mental health problems verging on a full-blown crisis have deeply rooted causes that range from a lack of funding to the emigration of trained physicians mainly to Western Europe and North America.

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Dr. Ikedinachukwu Nwankwor is a psychiatrist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Originally from Nigeria, he is concerned with the lack of a comprehensive healthcare system that focuses on mental health issues in developing countries. In Nigeria it is estimated that about 20 percent of the population suffers from one form of a mental illness or another. And it’s not just the lack of facilities; even, both qualified doctors and fresh medical graduates are fleeing the country in droves.

Mental Health in Dire Straits

The problem of mental health is a common one in most developing countries where there’s always a stigma regarding seeing a psychiatrist or seeking help for any mental disorder. But in Nigeria this problem takes a sharp turn for the worse when we know that former capital Lagos, only has no more than a half-dozen psychiatric treatment centers. Ikedinachukwu Nwankwor states that for a city with about 21 million inhabitants that’s hardly ever enough.

This might explain the long lines of patients outside these clinics as they wait for their turn to see a treating psychiatrist. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), out of an estimated 50 million Nigerians with mental health problems, only 10 percent of them get the medical attention and care they need which has grown to become a major issue within the country. The mental health crisis in Nigeria is better estimated using the rising rate of suicide throughout the country.

The Flight of Medical Staff

As most populous black nation and by extension the country with most stressful life style leading to multiple health challenges, Nigeria’s health issues are compounded with the fact that most of the trained physicians prefer to leave the country. Understaffed and overworked, it is common for physicians all over the country to go on a strike demanding increased pay and better work conditions.

These strikes rarely work, however, and many of Nigeria’s finest doctors are forced to quit the profession or leave the country. The latest estimates from Nigeria Health Watch, a nonprofit organization, showed that nine out of ten physicians were unhappy with the facilities, pay, or career opportunities available to them. Most expressed a desire to migrate to Europe, Canada, and the USA. As a result, the country has a critical doctor-patient ratio of one to 5,000 across all the medical fields.

Absence of Government Funding

Ikedinachukwu Nwankwor doesn’t think that the Nigerian doctors are to blame for the medical crisis the country is facing right now. Lack of funding is by far the most crucial factor in this dilemma, this is complicated by massive corruption within Nigerian system. Case in point, Nigeria’s budget for 2020 has only set aside 4.3 percent of the entire budget to healthcare. This number falls short of the 15 percent mark set in the Abuja Declaration that Nigeria had signed along with 20 other African countries. Even when this much is earmarked for health services, much less will get to the front line facilities.

Ikedinachukwu Nwankwor concludes that for Nigerians to get the medical treatment they deserve the country needs to increase funding in the health sector as well as attract doctors from abroad to fill the shortage in the medical staff. The government as well will intensify the fight against corruption.

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Located in Winnipeg, MB. Staff psychiatrist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority & Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba.

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