Okon: Nigeria Needs Increase Investment, Funding in the Health Sector, to Curb Japa Syndrome

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In this interview, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ValueChain Academy, a United States of America-based development consultancy firm, Dr Imoh Okon, posited that Nigeria needs increased investment and funding within the health sector to curb the mass migration of medical personnel in Nigeria. Sunday Ehigiator reports

Since its creation, migration has been seen as an integral part of human socialisation. Either for trade, commerce, status, or a necessity, people always moved from one place to another in search of something.

More relatable is the number of Nigerians that have migrated in recent times in search of greener pastures overseas, these numbers also include doctors and other medical personnel, thereby further worsening the already unfavourable Doctor-to-patient ratio of 1-600 in Nigeria, according to the World Health Organisation.

To this end, Dr Okon speaks on how the situation could be harnessed to favour the African continent. Enjoy excerpt

What’s your take on the current ‘Japa Syndrome’ in Nigeria?

As you rightly noted, migration is not a new phenomenon as it has existed for Centuries. People migrate for several reasons, including for example war and insecurity, famine, or to seek economic, educational or career opportunities.

Africa is blessed with both human and natural resources, however in several instances; its vibrant and hardworking youthful population lacks sufficient opportunities to meet their educational and career aspirations.

We know that innovation can come from anywhere and I have witnessed some amasing, innovative solutions coming out of resource-constrained African communities in recent years.

However, without an enabling environment and support system (e.g., access to capital, technology, electricity, etc.), several novel endeavours have failed to meet or reach the desired potential. It is therefore not surprising that ambitious individuals would naturally gravitate towards opportunities that support the expression of their talents, including educational growth and professional development.

Contrary to public perception, #Japa, a new lexicon in the global dictionary introduced by Nigerians as migration of young opportunity seekers abroad is not peculiar to African countries.

A careful look at the international labour data shows that countries across the world suffer terrible depletion of their skilled workforce from time to time due to similar reasons.

For example, British healthcare professionals are moving to Australia and the United States in droves, as those there are also moving elsewhere. 

However, in my opinion, this trend again is not entirely new and relates to the quest for opportunities. People will always gravitate towards areas of “perceived” better opportunities.

With the UK, several factors have contributed to the pressure on its healthcare system, including Brexit, the inability to graduate an adequate number of medical professionals to meet the increasing needs of its population, inadequate healthcare investments and funding, excessive workload and poor enumeration of doctors and nurses.

Additionally, the British healthcare delivery model may become unsustainable without significant policy changes. A major benefit of a “free” healthcare system is that it guarantees access to every citizen and qualified resident, however, it may be prone to long waitlists for certain medical procedures, inherent abuse, and waste within the system.

In the United States, there are also challenges with the optimal delivery of healthcare services. Issues such as access, health insurance, equity and costs remain significant challenges within the U.S. healthcare system.

To focus doctors’ efforts on areas of pressing needs, other trained medical professionals, such as Physician Assistants and Nursing Practitioners are tasked with handling routine medical issues or providing first-line contact with patients before seeing a physician.

Additionally, a focus towards preventive rather than reactive medicine is being promoted. For example, some health insurance companies offer financial rewards or incentives to members that undertake yearly preventive medical screenings, while penalising smokers or the use of tobacco products.

Additional health initiatives have banned cigarette smoking in certain public places, while physical activities and healthy diets are strongly encouraged. With considerable stress on the healthcare system, countries need to adapt to ensure equitable delivery and distribution of healthcare resources.

It is no news that the Nigerian Health Sector is the most affected by the #Japa Syndrome, followed by the financial institutions among others. This has further exacerbated the disproportionate Doctor-to-patient ratio of 1-600 according to the World Health Organisation. The figure is hovering around 1-10,000 or more now.

As a medical expert in the US, what are the challenges and how can this be addressed?

The short answer to the question is that Nigeria needs increased investment and funding within the health sector. Healthcare is both a business and a service and therefore, the Government cannot do it alone.

In addition to increased funding, the Government (Local, State and Federal) needs to provide leadership, encourage private investments and partnerships, plus policy guidance that addresses the root causes of current healthcare challenges.

We often equate health to the actual presence or manifestation of disease or illness, but it encompasses much more. Several factors directly impact health, including housing, transportation, education, environment, income, and much more. Together, these factors constitute “social determinants of health”.

Additionally, there are commercial determinants of health. Given the abysmally poor doctor-to-patient ratio, are there opportunities to increase the number of graduating medical professionals (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical laboratory technicians, etc.)?

Can tangible improvements be effected to enhance medical and scientific research, improve the numbers and quality of community health centres, and eradicate fake and counterfeit medicines?

Additional areas that can yield tangible benefits include support for continuing medical and professional education, targeting University Teaching Hospitals as hubs for best practice and innovation, regulation of health facilities and diagnostics labs, secure health record systems, accredited and well-staffed pharmacies as hubs for routine services such as vaccinations, equipment purchase and maintenance, and adequate training of medical and technical personnel.

These require significant investments but are a snapshot of achievable solutions. Importantly, technology can enable better coordination, accountability, and meaningful outcomes of these initiatives.

Many Nigerian Migrants have been duped with some having their lives endangered as a result of fraudulent relocation travel plans. While some opt for the route of education, others believe securing a visa with a work permit outright is the most viable option. How do you think this should be best approached?

It is imperative to note that practically every sector or profession has its fair share of impostors and counterfeits. Therefore, it is important to do your “homework” and become sufficiently well-informed based on your plans, whether via education or work permit. Next, seek credible organizations that will work and partner with you towards achieving your desired and defined goals. Credibility is important.

Therefore, look for organisations that provide demonstrated evidence with a guarantee of optimizing your chances of success regarding achieving pre-defined and agreed goals. We are proudly one of such reputable organizations, and you can check us out at www.valuechainacademy.net.

What is the role of ValueChain Academy in all of this #Japa paradox?

ValueChain Academy operates globally and addresses specific gaps that impinge on educational growth, professional development, and career opportunities. Given the abundance of natural resources and human capital across Africa, we hope that by increasing educational and training opportunities for the vibrant youthful population, we can stem and even reverse the Japa paradox.

China, Russia, and several European countries are in Africa for a reason. The natural resources, youthful population and consumer market can be found here which forms a magnet and attractive combination for businesses.

Therefore, a highly educated and skilled workforce can power the Continent into an era of sustainable development and economic prosperity.

What’s ValueChain’s unique selling point?

First, we believe that it takes a village or community to raise a child! We believe that classrooms are not the “start-to-end” of learning. Therefore, we bring a combinatorial and coordinated blend of unique learning opportunities and resources that challenge, inspire, and maximize student’s educational growth and long-term career success.

We cater to high school, undergraduate and graduate students by building tailored programs and highly competitive portfolios to support their career aspirations.

Don’t forget, I obtained my doctorate from Imperial College London, and with over 23 years of educational and career experiences in both the United States and the UK, I understand first-hand that knowledge transfer is greatly amplified when coupled with real-world utility and mentorship opportunities.

At Value Chain Academy, in addition to supporting students’ academic activities, we provide additional resources, such as STEM projects, internship opportunities, industry visits, summer camps, career fairs, and much more. The goal is to ensure that our students remain competitive relative to their peers in North America, Europe, South Korea, Japan, China, and other parts of the world.

Why is this important? We believe that strong academic grades, together with a solid and well-rounded portfolio present several benefits. For example, such students are better positioned for admission into competitive programs across top-tier universities, become attractive candidates for competitive scholarships, develop a high level of self-awareness and critical thinking skills, gain confidence, and are well-conditioned for global career opportunities.

We also enjoy strategic partnerships with several stakeholders in the international and career ecosystems, including Colleges, Universities, and multinational organizations, to expand internship opportunities for our students, company executives and professionals that provide mentorship, career advice, and much more. 

In addition, remaining relevant in a dynamic and highly competitive job market requires a continuous learning mindset. Therefore, we provide training to obtain certifications in several on-demand job areas, such as Project/Program Management, Regulatory Science (clinical trials), Healthcare Informatics, Climate and Environmental Health, and Healthcare Finance.

How does education abroad transition to smart career choices and personal successes?

Firstly, education anywhere is valuable and critical to personal development. The importance of education cannot be over-emphasized as it presents enormous opportunities for achieving professional and career success while powering innovations, inventions, and solutions to real-world problems.

From travel, technology, communication, medical breakthroughs, and agriculture, including our environments as it relates to climate change, education remains the bedrock of our shared human values.

Studying abroad enhances access to new opportunities, uninterrupted studies, experiential and application-based knowledge transfer, and a chance to pursue whatever educational or career path of interest. However, beyond studying abroad, an individual ultimately controls their destiny regarding how they intend to apply acquired education.

Of course, ValueChain Academy provides resources to support professional development, career guidance, mentorship, and advice throughout every stage of a student’s educational journey.

How does the ValueChain Academy intercede for African international students; what is the step-by-step support like?

At the core of our mission is to increase the representation of underrepresented professionals and students into competitive positions and academic programs across top-tier, global institutions, and universities.

Both students and professionals need to be educationally equipped at levels that are both comparative and competitive to their peers in Europe, North America, China, South Korea, etc. Global issues affect all regions, and with the world increasingly becoming a “global village” (thanks to technology), Africa needs to position itself strategically and proactively invest in raising the next generation of leaders.

As a continent, Africa needs an astronomic increase in both its educated and professional population. Africans must be prepared to have a seat on the global stage wherever and whenever current and emerging global issues are discussed. Some of these issues include but are not limited to, global pandemics (e.g., recent COVID-19), artificial intelligence/ machine learning (AI/ML), climate change, crypto or digital currencies, food security, water shortages, sanitation, smart cities, and much more. Hence, we strive to expose our community to opportunities that shape, inspire, and support educational growth and professional development.

For international students who must have completed their education, what is the next best step?

Students who have completed an undergraduate program may decide to seek employment or pursue further postgraduate studies. Postgraduate students may decide to seek employment, pursue professional certifications, or embark on further studies to enhance their competitive advantage.

In addition to meeting the basic requirements of a job or position, competitive candidates bring additional qualities, such as relevant experience, excellent communication skills, quantitative and data skills, and the ability to learn in a fast-paced environment.

For these reasons and more, we encourage internship opportunities during the ‘student’ phase, participation in relevant and verifiable projects, plus professional mentors, and certifications to further bolster preparedness for the job market.

Whatever option you decide, feel free to contact us for a free consultation session, and we will be happy to provide unbiased and objective feedback. We provide unique and tailored solutions and work with both students and professionals across different countries.

You can also join any of our free monthly Professional Seminar Series (PSS) where we bring professionals from diverse backgrounds (doctors, scientists, engineers, company executives, creative artists, educators, etc.) to share their experiences and expand your network.

Starting this January, the UK Government has stopped the issuance of visas for spouses of international students who are seeking to study in the country, except if they are Postgraduate Students, how does ValueChain Academy intend to navigate these migration laws and policies to have a safe landing for the students?

Countries set and periodically review their visa policies. At ValueChain Academy, we work with students based on their unique circumstances and preferences to explore alternative pathways, such as educational and/or career opportunities in North America. With strategic partners in the U.K., U.S.A., and Canada plus decades of professional and educational experiences in these countries, we are equipped to provide transparent, winning strategies.

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