For the umpteenth time during his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari has travelled out of the country for medical reasons.
Although, part of the rationale was for him to attend the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations Environmental Programme, which took place early this month in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Since the period of stay for the medical check-up – two weeks, far outnumbering the two-day programme, then it is not out of place to contend that the real purpose of the overseas journey is for medical check-up.
It is instructive to appreciate here that, by the end of March 2022, President Buhari would have spent 215 days outside this country on medical tourism. After assuming office in 2015, President Buhari was in London for the first medical trip between February 5 and 10 in 2016. Between June 6 and 19, 2016, he was in London for the treatment of ear infection. He also had a 10-day vacation starting June 19, 2017, overseas.
The interesting thing in all of these is the likelihood that the Nigerian medical doctors who are denied the conducive environment and tools at home, are most likely the ones to treat the president in the United Kingdom.
According to the reports from the International Centre for Investigative Journalism and The Punch, as of 2021, Nigerian medical personnel in the United Kingdom were well above 8,000. Particularly, between 2016 and 2018, Nigeria lost over 9,000 medical personnel to the United Kingdom, United States of America, Saudi Arabia, among others.
There are many favourable indicators that indicate that the government will record significant success in attracting private sector investments into the nation’s healthcare sector provided there is the will to do so
Against that backdrop, the problem with the Nigerian healthcare service delivery is not the absence of specialists, but adequately funding the healthcare sector for optimal service delivery, provision of tools and equipment, and remuneration that will make medical personnel have a sense of belonging to the country.
More importantly and in purely monetary terms, it is on record that Nigeria loses an average of $1 billion annually to medical tourism. With the scarcity of dollars pervasive, and the few available ones being rationed among government units and critical sectors, it is time for the Federal Government of Nigeria to come up with sector specific policy that will attract private sector investments into the country’s healthcare sector.
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Available data suggest that Nigerians seek medical tourism in areas such as oncology, nephrology, cardiology, orthopaedics, among others. They continue to do so in places like: India, Malaysia, China, South Africa, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
On the other hand, it is possible to put in place a home-grown solution that will stem the rather insidious tide of medical tourism, which constitutes a source of shame to this country. This solution involves the creation of healthcare hubs that can be strategically located across the country, for easy accessibility. There are many favourable indicators that indicate that the government will record significant success in attracting private sector investments into the nation’s healthcare sector provided there is the will to do so.
One is the quality of manpower. Nigeria has abundant human capacity, which explains why even developed nations fall over themselves when recruiting Nigeria-trained medical personnel. The United Kingdom conducts recruitment regularly for doctors, nurses and other healthcare specialists.
Another factor is the increasing awareness about the dictum, health is wealth. An average Nigerian always wants to be hale and hearty. Consequently, families now have a budget for healthcare. Health Management Organisations (HMOs) across the country have maintained steady success in enlisting individuals into the formal healthcare service delivery.
In 2019, Nigerians spent N2.46 trillion on healthcare services, representing 14.12 percent of non-food expenditure, and 6.12 percent of the total consumption expenditure in the country as at that time.
The countries, which our political leaders visit regularly for medical tourism, did not rest on their oars. They continually innovate and improve the business environment for more private sector capital to come in. We must urgently do that for the sake of generations to come.
For almost a year that the global aviation industry was locked down due to COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Nigerian leaders were forced to use local healthcare outfits. Many people thought as a fallout from that, the federal and state governments would have taken that as a serious warning to improve the healthcare sector. Sadly enough, that was not to be. Immediately the restrictions were lifted, the nation has since gone back to default settings.
The lacklustre attitude with which Nigeria’s healthcare service delivery is handled could make some government officials victims of their own negligence.
Currently, a wave of sanctions is being imposed on Russia, with no one certain about their impact across the globe. If the sanctions and counter-sanctions continue, the world might come to a standstill, and services such as medical tourism might be inaccessible to many. Therefore, it is high time Nigeria developed its own healthcare sector to meet global standards. The importance of our suggestion here cannot be over-emphasised.
Apart from the practical reasons for the need to develop our own healthcare system, the issue of national pride also comes into play. Thus, if the labours of our heroes and heroines are not to be in vain, as amply deposed in our national anthem, it is time for this country to rise up to the surmountable challenges of putting in place a viable healthcare system for the benefits of all Nigerian citizens.