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Published On: Thu, Nov 21st, 2019

Repositioning health system for medical tourism benefits

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Gerald Nwokocha

Medical tourism is making wave in most countries of the world. Through it, the countries have improved their economy.
With the spate of Nigerians’ preference for anything foreign (whether products or services), it is not surprising that many Nigerians fly out on a monthly basis, seeking medical treatment abroad. Following this mass movement of people for better healthcare, Nigeria loses a lot of money with India alone getting the highest patronage.
Nigerians spend millions of dollars on medical tourism patronizing countries like India, Israel, Germany, US, SA and UK. This is because healthcare system in Nigeria has degenerated to the extent that patients no longer have confidence in it.
Report says that nearly 5000 Nigerian patients visit India alone for medical tourism on a monthly basis. Some cases are miss-diagnosed. In the search for medical aid abroad, many Nigerians have heard ample unpalatable experience, which led to death or more complications. Most have refused to share their experience for others to learn for one reason or the other. Some notable Nigerians who died while seeking medication abroad include Senator Gyang Pwajok, Stella Obasanjo, Miriam Babangida, Solomon Lar, Dantata, Dora Akunyili etc. Also the popular news of the tragic death of Miss Chineye Christiana Nwafor, graduate of University of Abuja, who was reportedly killed on October 2015 as a result of miss-management and negligence of case in an Indian hospital.
One would have thought that with the large number of Nigerians, elites whose cases were mismanaged and even a former President whose cases could not be treated abroad, that the government would have put in efforts to revitalize the health sector making it robust for medical tourism to thrive.
Through Medical Tourism, people travel to a long distance most times across the border in search of better medical attention and services, while they avail themselves of the opportunity of enjoying engagement in leisure, business or other purposes.
How can the Nigeria’s government functionaries improve the nation’s health system when flying abroad for medical check-up is the first bullshit reason they give when arrested for embezzlement.
One may ask, is there an embargo prohibiting government from discharging one of her functions (equipping the health care)? Has decision makers lost hope on the healthcare? Is it no longer their duty to revamp it and make it a world-class health system?
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Indians used to come to Nigeria to study at the University College Ibadan. By the standards of then, Nigeria health care is supposed to have become one of the best in the world.
Government will continue to pay little or no attention to the state of our health sector until they are required BY LAW (as criteria for being a public servant and political office holder) to visit only hospitals in the country.
The National Assembly recently passed the National Budget allocating N221.4 billion to health sector as against the N221.7 billion the President Buhari had submitted on Tuesday December 22, 2015. Report shows that, “In 2013, the Federal government budgeted 270 billion Naira for the health sector, representing 5.5 percent of the federal budget, in 2014, the federal government budgeted N216.40 billion representing 4.4 percent of the national budget, this marked a 20.73 percent drop in the actual value of the health budget and in its share of the national budget, the health budget in 2015 is 237 billion Naira and about 5.5 percent of the national budget of N4.36 trillion.’’
Nigeria’s health sector may get worse in 2016 due to poor allocation and following the withdrawal of international donor agencies support in an area like HIV/AIDS.
For instance, investigation reveals that vaccines and the services that surround immunisation in Nigeria in 2016 will consume $1.4 billion estimate. With such a paltry budget, how would the health sector deliver effectively with the spate of health incidences (accident related cases, injuries incurred by insurgency, diseases, etc)?
From the 2012 World Health Statistics, figures show that Nigeria has one of the worst healthcare statistics in Africa. An average of 143 children of every 1,000 births dies before their fifth birthday in Nigeria. In Kenya, the average is 85, in Senegal 75, in Ghana 74 and in South Africa 57.
Figures also reveal that Nigeria also has one of the worse life expectancy rates. As of 2009, an average Nigerian had a life expectancy of just 54 years, just about the average in Africa, but well below 62 years for Senegal and 60 years for Ghana.
Nigeria assumes to be the giant of Africa. This she has not lived up to in many areas. Some Senators, Governors, Ministers, political aides, would fall sick, instead of him being treated in the country, they are flown abroad.
For instance, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State Godswill Akpabio was involved in an auto crash on August 31, 2015 along Airport road Abuja and was said to have sustained a minor injury. He was discharged from the National Hospital Abuja the following day. That same day he was discharged, he was flown abroad for further medical attention. One would ask, what’s the essence of such frivolous expense? Why didn’t he go for further examination in the “World-class” hospital he built in Akwa Ibom? Our leaders have lost confidence on our health care they are supposed to develop. Though, his political aides later said he went to visit his daughter.
Also the appointment of someone without medical background as State Health Commissioner is condemnable. What do we intend to achieve by that? Imo State government appointed a Lawyer by name Barr Mrs Ngozi Njoku as Health Commissioner. This is misplacement of priority.
“National pride should not only lie in safeguarding a nation’s territorial integrity and other lofty ideals, which the government loves to mouth about. It should also include the ability to treat the sick in the country instead of having to rely on foreign expertise.”
It is very humiliating each time we hear news of prominent compatriots who have to die abroad due to wrong diagnoses while seeking medical attention, just because we do not have what it takes to get them healed here at home. Report had it that, “in 1998, Nigerian doctors diagnose late Prof Dora Akunyili of having a growth and needed surgery. Akunyili, decided to travel to the United States, first to get a second opinion and then probably undergo the prescribed surgery. But, during pre-surgery check-up in the US, the doctors told her that Nigerian doctors had made a wrong diagnosis and that she did not need any surgery. US doctors were wrong.” The wrong diagnosis of her case by the US doctors in 1998 later resulted to her death.
University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH), University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, and Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital are three federal hospitals that have successfully carried out renal transplant (Nephrectomy) couple of times. Why then do countrymen undermine their health systems?
Nigeria has specialists in most of the prominent hospitals overseas. Lots of Nigeria born nurses are doing well outside there. Nigerians are named among the America’s top cardiologists.
“On February 28, 2012, the Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs disclosed that most members of the Association of Black Doctors in the America are Nigerians. Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said during a presentation at the Federal Ministry of Health on the possibility of harnessing the vast human resources of Nigerians Diaspora in the health sector. According to her, Nigeria needed to borrow a leaf from countries like India and China where their medical professionals trained abroad, returned to transform the health sector of their respective countries. These exemplary countries, Dabiri-Erewa said, achieved the transformation in their healthcare delivery system through deliberate government policies that created the right atmosphere for their medical professionals not only to make financial remittances to their countries of origin but to collaborate with their counterparts at home in raising the standard of practice.”
Nigerians must learn to hold our leaders and decision makers accountable. All Nigerians must understand that, “the story can only be changed and we will make great progress only when Nigerians insist on effective leadership”. As long as Nigerians are happy to only complain without acting, protesting using different platforms, passing vote of no confidence, voting out political office holders who are under-performing, etc, nothing will change.

Gerald Nwokocha writes from Abuja. He is the Principal Author, The Metamorphoses of Nigeria. Contact 08032565094 / nwokochagerald@yahoo.com

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