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Private funds in fresh bid to reverse Nigeria’s $1.5bn medical tourism

Investors are increasingly taking rare bets on Nigeria’s healthcare sector as they eye a slice of the estimated $1.5 billion spent on medical tourism abroad yearly.

The opportunity has been there for long but has been brought to the fore on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a further uptick in medical tourism.

Money backed by multinational giants in healthcare investment and big Nigerian banks is flowing into the development of hospitals vast in modern diagnostics and therapy equipment, as well as skilled manpower of international repute, catering to top diseases that drive patients abroad.

The Duchess International Hospital, the brainchild of the Reddington Hospital Group, is the latest ‘kid on the block’ of such hospitals springing up in Nigeria’s commercial centre in a year upset by the second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Players such as Duchess are closing in on a market that has been controlled over time by leading medical facilities in countries like India, Germany, US, UK, and Dubai, owing to weak infrastructure, poor government spending, and rising loss of medical professionals to improved working conditions elsewhere.

Read Also: A stitch in time for investment in Nigeria’s healthcare sector

Nigeria’s healthcare sector

India alone accounts for more than half of $1.5 billion that Nigeria loses yearly to purchasing medical services overseas, according to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).

Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s vice-president said highly invested hospitals such as Duchess could create an attractive proposition to reverse brain drain based on the opportunities offered.

He said the reasons medical professionals vote with their feet might begin to fizzle away as investments increase in the sector, speaking during the inauguration.

“This is the 15th facility of the conglomerate of Reddington Hospital in the country. So, there must be some business sense. With investments like these seeking high-quality healthcare, we can even reverse the trend of doctors voting with their feet,” Osinbajo said.

The 110-bed hospital, fully-equipped facility in the Lagos State capital, Ikeja, is arguably Nigeria’s first private multi-specialty hospital on Lagos Mainland.

It parades some of the scarce devices in the country such as catheterization laboratory, mammogram, ultrasound, X-Ray machines, ventilators, and anaesthetic machines, among other technology resources.

According to Adetokunbo Shitta-Bey, CEO of the hospital, the six-year project is designed to provide ample substitute for medical solutions to chronic diseases sought abroad and also address the disproportionate distribution of healthcare in Lagos.

“We want to ensure every Nigerian has access to quality care. Nigerians abroad doing wonderful things should be back home to be part of this vision,” he said.

Despite a population growth rate of 3.2 percent annually, estimated to reach 400 million by 2050, Nigeria’s healthcare spending hovers around 3.75 percent instead of 15 percent.

Infant mortality remains at 76 per 1,000 as the country grapples with about 35,000 doctors when 237,000 is needed, according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) estimates.

To fix bed to population deficit, a 2020 research by Knight Frank, a consultancy services and forecasting firm, states that Nigeria requires an additional 386,000 beds based on the global average, as of 2019 and 646,000 by 2035.

At least, $82 billion worth of real estate investment in healthcare would be required based on the world average, according to the reports.

It is a long haul but firms that spot the potential in the sector are getting into the fray.

Supporting the planning, development, building, and equipping of the facility at Duchess International Hospital, GE Healthcare provided a comprehensive suite of solutions such as X-Ray-Brivo DRF, Digital Mammo Senographe Pristina, Cath Lab – Innova 530, CT-Scan- Optima CT 660, Ultrasound – Vivid T8, Voluson, Logiq F6, Mobile Xray – Optima XR 220, LCS-Ventilator, Baby Warmers, and Anesthetic Machine.

Eyong Ebai, general manager, GE Healthcare, sub-Saharan Africa, said the partnership with Duchess Hospital showcases the interest in ensuring the best availability of medical equipment for effective world-class healthcare delivery.

GE Healthcare is a $16.7 billion healthcare business, leading global medical technology and digital solutions innovator that enables clinicians with intelligent devices, data analytics, applications, and services, supported by its Edison Ecosystem.

With over 100 years of healthcare industry experience, the company operates at the centre of an ecosystem working toward precision health, digitising healthcare, driving productivity, and improving patients’ outcomes.

“We continue to adapt to improved technology in solving the challenges in healthcare through our equipment,” Ebai said.

Industry analysts project Nigeria could retain a substantial part of the capital flight that follows medical tourism as more multi-billion naira investments like Duchess spring up around the country.

Duchess is coming seven months after Evercare, a fully-fledged multi-specialist hospital began operations, joining leading players including First Cardiology and Lagoon Hospital, among others.

Adeyemi Onabowale, chairman, Reddington Hospital Group, advised that while private players race to benchmark the country’s healthcare quality against other developing nations with high standards, “the government should provide adequate and realistic funding for the private sector and National Health Insurance Scheme should regulate the technical process for health coverage in the private sector”.

Godwin Emefiele, governor Central Bank of Nigeria responding said the apex bank will not hesitate to restructure the loan terms to give the hospital longer tenure.

He said the bank has increased the healthcare intervention fund to N200 billion from the initial N100 billion due to demand.

“We had taken up N100 million to support but the monetary policy has said we should move it further up to N200 billion. We would continue to do whatever can be done to support healthcare,” he said.

“I want to encourage our banks to lend to them and also members of our private sector community to invest as you don’t have to be a doctor to own a medical facility,” Emefiele said.

Also, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State pledged to create an enabling environment for the likes of Dutchess Hospital in different parts of the state, noting that the state has increased our budget in the health sector this year from about 12.1 percent to 13.6 percent. Healthcare is not lip-service.

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