Why the status quo must change
By Oluwole Olusanya Sherriff
Medical tourism is originally a term used to qualify patients’ movement from highly developed nations to other areas of the world to get medical treatment, usually at a lower cost. More recently, the term has been generally used to mean every form of travel from one country to another in search of medical help, which can also simply be called ‘medical travel’. It also includes travelling to countries where the treatment for particular conditions can be better sourced.
Medical Tourism and Healthcare in Nigeria
The Nigerian healthcare sector is one of the areas in which the country has failed her citizens. In spite of huge budgetary allocations, the sector has consistently failed to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the common Nigerian and those that can afford to leave the country anytime there is the need to get high-quality medical care do not think twice before embarking on such trips.
The Indian High Commission, alluding to their country’s Medical Association’s 2014 annual report, disclosed that Indian hospitals received 18,000 Nigerians on medical visas in 2012, and about 47 per cent of outbound medical tourists from Nigeria go to India, totalling about USD260 million. Estimates show that in 2015, India received about half a million medical tourists annually. As a matter of fact, it was recently revealed that Nigeria is at the top of the medical tourism list of Africans going to India, Israel, United Kingdom, Germany and some mid-eastern countries for medical attention.
In my previous article titled; “SOCIAL JUSTICE, RULE OF LAW & DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA (PART 2)”, I noted that the idea that institutions should be freely and equally available to individuals is known as social justice and government has a scared responsibility to ensure that structures are put in place to pursue the actualization of the set objective.
Nowadays, public office-holders in the country travel abroad for medical challenges as ordinary as malaria and even the President had to be flown to a London hospital because of an ´Ear Infection´ sometimes in the first quarter of the year. It was estimated by the Federal Ministry of Health in 2014 that public officials travelling abroad for medical care cost a whopping NGN198.95 billion. This is staggering and a sheer waste of scarce foreign exchange. The money being wasted on foreign medical trips yearly which runs into millions of dollars could be properly channelled into providing and establishing world-class hospitals in different parts of the country which would benefit the rich and the poor.
The rate at which Nigerians seek medical attention abroad calls for concern especially now that the country’s economy is in a shambles. It is regrettable that in spite of the country’s dwindling resources, Nigerians yet prefer to seek medical attention in foreign lands as successive administrations have yet to achieve an ideal healthcare system.
Causes and Reasons
Government’s Insincerity- One of the props of medical tourism is lack of will on the part of the government. It is quiet embarrassing to know that public office holders make up a large chunk of the outbound medical tourists in Nigeria. Earlier in the cause of this article, I made a reference to my previous article titled; “SOCIAL JUSTICE, RULE OF LAW & DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA (PART 2)”. I seek the indulgence of my readers as I would like to do this again. ´Meanwhile, in the self-same budget #4.8billion has been earmarked for the clinic at Aso Rock. One can easily compare this with the budget of say, the entire Lagos University Teaching Hospital´. The even more shocking irony of this lopsided vote is that the President was flown out of the country to treat an ear infection even after this most insensitive allocation.
Paltry Budgetary Allocation- Health experts and other stakeholders in the sector have continuously painted a pathetic picture of the state of healthcare in Nigeria and unanimously agreed that the country has no public health system. We demand that the Nigerian government fulfils its promise of allocating 15 per cent of the national budget to health as agreed during the Abuja Declaration, 15 years ago. Here we recall that on April 25, 2001 governments of African countries met in Abuja, and agreed to increase health spending to 15 per cent of their national budgets.
According to One Campaign, an international advocacy organization fighting extreme poverty and preventable diseases, the programme is also intended to make government allocate adequate funding toward the actualisation of the National Health Act. In the 2016 budget, only a paltry 4.3 per cent of the total amount was allotted to health.
Negative Perception- One of the features of the third-world nations is their inferiority complex of always failing to consume, utilize or patronize what they produce or have. Even when there are adequate facilities and well-trained personnel, some wealthy Nigerians still prefer to travel abroad for medical care. The reasons range from showing off the elevated status and wealth to the lack of trust and confidence in the Nigerian healthcare delivery system. We need to abandon the thought that anything foreign is better because we have well-trained medical personnel here in Nigeria. One of the ways we can earn respect as the “Giant of Africa” is to rise above the mentality of seeing anything foreign as better than domestic. (Medical Tourism: Is Nigeria Really A “Giant Of Africa”? – Hussain Obaro 2015).
The Way Forward
If you ask for my opinion, I would suggest that the first thing any serious government would do is to declare a state of emergency in the sector. This is of utmost necessity because it would offer a holistic approach to the challenges bedevilling the sector and provide a transparent analysis and solution to the life-long dilapidation of infrastructure in the sector.
Secondly, I believe that any administration that wants to record significant success in the healthcare sector and discourage medical tourism must lead by example. The present situation of things in the sector would surely improve if our leaders and public office holders are compelled to seek medical care in the country. I suggest that laws and legislations discouraging outbound medical tourism can be legislated and enforced so that only extreme cases needing the most advance medical treatments are referred to external hospitals.
Lastly, one of the ways our hospitals, clinics and medical centres would be up-graded to meet international standards is through private sector participation. PPP will do a lot of magic if it is fully harnessed and strategically employed.