It is common knowledge that Nigeria loses huge sums in capital flight to medical tourism, as some citizens often complain that most of the nation’s hospitals lack the modern equipment needed for effective diagnosis and treatment.
Recent statistics from the Senate Committee on Health indicate that Nigerians spend about N80 billion annually on medical treatments abroad.
Observers note that the most popular destinations for the medical tourism are India, Germany, UK, Israel and some other Middle-East countries.
The situation has become a source of worry for concerned citizens and conscious efforts are being made to transform healthcare delivery in the country by equipping the hospitals with modern equipment.
Poised to tackle the problem, President Goodluck Jonathan recently expressed his determination to curb medical tourism by involving private investors in the health sector reforms.
The president made the declaration during the inauguration of the Nigeria-Turkish Nizamiye Hospital in Abuja recently.
Jonathan said that the state-of-the-art hospital demonstrated a pragmatic response to the government’s policy aimed at enhancing private-sector participation in healthcare delivery in Nigeria.
“A lot of Nigerians go out almost on a daily basis to seek medical help abroad and almost all the hospitals that attend to them outside this country are privately owned.
“If we encourage the private sector to take the lead; that would save the amount of money Nigerians pay outside.
“The determination of our government is to ensure that our citizens have access to quality and affordable healthcare services. In this regard, the role of the private sector in complementing government efforts is very crucial.
“Undoubtedly, private-sector initiatives such as this hospital will aid government’s efforts to halt the enormous capital flight arising from increased medical tourism and the avoidable stress experienced by Nigerians in such cases,’’ he said.
He said that the Federal Government had constituted a committee to develop a network of improved modern healthcare infrastructure to further stimulate investment in the health sector.
Jonathan stressed that a number of world-class diagnostic and treatment facilities were being developed in Abuja, Lagos and other locations across the country.
On his part, Dr Mustafa Ahsen, the hospital’s Medical Director, said that the hospital offered Nigerians the opportunity of staying in their country and receiving world-class medical treatment which theyhitherto sought abroad.
According to him, the hospital aims to encourage Nigerians to receive medical treatment in Nigeria where their friends and relatives are readily available.
Ahsen said that the crux of the hospital’s operational mode centered on the treatment of patients with compassion, respect and utmost care.
“We will never lose our compassion and concern; we will never fall into the wrong delusion of viewing our patients as file numbers.
“We want to approach people who are suffering, distressed, frightened and on the verge of despair with empathy to end their pain.
“Our goal is to be a friend to someone who seeks a friend and a symbol of hope to the needy,’’ he added.
Besides, Ahsen, at a recent signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with VEFA Tourism and Travels Agency in Abuja on the transportation of patients with special cases to Turkey, expressed the determination of the hospital to reduce medical tourism.
He stressed that the target of the hospital was to handle all medical cases, conceding, however, that in the interim, any special case would be referred to its partners in Turkey.
He listed the units of the hospital as Neurosurgery, General Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cardiology, Radiology, Neurology, Orthopedic, Urology, Dermatology, Anesthesiology and laboratory, among others.
“We treat most of the cases that Nigerians seek abroad but for now; any case we cannot handle, we send the patient to Turkey, especially in cases relating to cardiovascular diseases.
“Very soon, we will start having kidney transplants here; but for now, we send such patients to Turkey.
“Before a patient is sent to Turkey, we send his or her medical report and in the last two months, we have sent seven patients, out of which three are back; one of them also had a successful kidney transplant.
“Before long, all the diseases will be treatable in this hospital,’’ he reiterated.
Ahsen emphasised that cost of treatment in hospital was affordable, adding that it was akin to the one charged in other private hospitals within the FCT.
He, however, said that the hospital would soon provide free cataract treatment to no fewer than 1,500 Nigerians, in collaboration with some non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
He added that the planned free cataract operations would commence once all the needed equipment was procured.
He said that the hospital was operating mobile clinics in some rural areas, in partnership with the FCT Administration (FCTA) which identified the areas that required medical assistance.
On his part, Mr Selami Altay, the Agent Manager, VEFA Tourism and Travels Agency, said that the agency was offering a 20-per-cent discount to patients under the agreement.
He said that the agency would also facilitate the process of acquiring visa for the patients.
“We make sure the patient gets visa in one week instead of five weeks; and in urgent cases, we can secure the visa in less than one week.
“Under this arrangement, we provide air ticket, visa, ambulance and every other thing that will make the trip easy for the patients.
“When the patients come back, they can continue medical check and treatment here in Nizamiye,’’ he added.
Altay, however, said that the take-off points for the patients were Lagos, Abuja, Enugu and Kano
All the same, Mr Cemal Yigit, spokesperson for the hospital’s owners, First Surat Group of Companies, said that the primary purpose of establishing the hospital was to offer qualitative and standard healthcare services to Nigerians.
He stressed that the hospital’s services and their quality would certainly reduce the number of Nigerians travelling to Europe, India and the Middle-East for medical treatment.
Yigit said that no fewer than 180 Nigerians were employed in the hospital, which commenced operations in August 2013 and was inaugurated by President Jonathan in February 2014.
It is somewhat pertinent to note that Dr Osahon Enabulele, the National President of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), recently called for the speedy passage of the National Health Bill by the National Assembly to curb medical tourism.
According to him, annual overseas medical check-up among Nigerians is now a trend which has some negative effects on the country`s economy.
“With regard to medical tourism, one way to tackle it, I must say, is for us to support the National Health Bill. The bill explains how to restrict unwarranted medical tourism.
“The National Health Bill has a provision for the constitution of a body of medical experts, which would assess the requests of those, especially top political office holders, who want to go abroad in the name of attending to some health conditions.
“And that unless that group of experts makes useful recommendations to the Minister of Health, you have no reason to use taxpayers’ money to go on a jolly ride to India or Germany.
“So, it’s necessary for us to champion the passage of the National Health Bill.
“That bill means a lot to us and to all Nigerians; medical tourism will be wiped away sooner than later,’’ he added.
Enabulele noted that the bill signified an important step in efforts to improve the country’s health sector.
All in all, observers stress that the country was blessed with a lot of qualified, seasoned and proficient medical personnel, including doctors, who can manage any medical condition or disease.
They, however, insist that improving the state of Nigerian hospitals, in terms of equipment and funding, will go a long way in curtailing medical tourism.