Health Tourism And Poor Health Sector In Nigeria

By Victor Anya

The huge exodus of Nigerians on a daily basis to foreign hospitals in search for admirable medication is currently assuming an alarming rate. The humongous numbers of Nigerians emigrating outside the country to seek solutions to their health challenges is due mainly to the decrepit health facilities in the country. The poor health facilities in the country are as a result of many years of neglect by successive leaders. The neglect of the health sector by the leadership of the country is perhaps Nigerian leaders are not prohibited from accessing foreign hospitals for medication. Again, public office holders have their foreign hospital bills paid for them. This is beside the huge traveling allowances also paid to them for the same purpose.

Highly placed Nigerians both in the private and public sectors who have access to cheap monies, pick up their international passports and fly abroad in the event of the slightest health issues such headache, ear pain and even ordinary medical check-ups that can easily be handled by health professionals here in the country. This is because there are no laws barring any Nigerians from patronizing foreign hospitals. The absence of laws to checkmate the excessive and ordinate patronage of foreign hospitals is the bane of development in the health sector Nigeria.

Thus, it was a piece of cheering news when President Muhammadu Buhari informed Nigerians during the 56th Annual General Conference and Delegates Meeting of the Nigerian Medical Association held in Sokoto in 2016, an event where he was represented by the Minister for Health, Professor Isaac Adewole. “While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handed in Nigeria,” Buhari said, according to a statement by the Director, Media and Public Relations, Ministry of Health, Mrs. Boade Akinola.

However, it was a rude shock to Nigerians when in 2016, President Buhari reneged in his promise not to spend government’s funds on public officials seeking medical care abroad as he visited a hospital in London where he spent 14 days to treat an ear infection! Though, the Presidency told Nigerians that the treatment cost N20m but it was speculated that it might have cost the country a whopping £6m! Again, in 2017, Mr. Buhari spent another 103 days in a hospital in London at a cost which was not disclosed but there were insinuations that the cost would be about £30 million! This is in spite of the fact that Nigeria has 250 ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists as well as a National Ear Centre. It was reported that UK have more than 3,000 Nigerian trained doctors while there are more than 5,000 Nigerian trained doctors in America. Mr. Buhari’s frequent travels to seek medication abroad is worrisome considering the fact that in the 2016 budget the sum of N3.87b was allocated to the Aso Rock Clinic which is meant to cater for the health of Mr. President and members of his family.

Likewise, in the 2017 budget another whopping sum of N3.2 billion was earmarked for the same Aso Rock Clinic yet Mr. Buhari keeps patronizing foreign hospitals. Only recently, the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari cried out that there were no syringes and needles in the Aso Rock Clinic! The question boggling the minds of Nigerians is, why does Mr. President keep approving budgets for the Aso Rock Clinic yearly when he knew he and his household would not use it? Many Nigerians have also wondered why Mr. President has not queried the management of the Aso Rock Clinic over the accusation by Mrs. Buhari that there were no syringes and needles in the clinic?

While public office holders who have access to free public funds frequent foreign hospitals, ordinary Nigerians who are not so fortunate appear on television daily, pleading for financial assistance in order to visit hospitals in India for medication. Nigerians go to India for cancer, spinal cord, plastic and neurosurgery as well as fertility and transplant tourism. Nigerian hospitals lack manpower, facilities, transplantation centres and dialysis centres. Different kinds of cancers, Kidney and heart failure are the diseases pushing ordinary Nigerians to seek medication in India. Even mammograms for breast cancer detention and hospitals for kidney transplant are not readily available in the country.

Yearly, Nigerians spend about $1.5b (about N1.25 trillion) on foreign medication. A breakdown of the global pharmaceutical markets which was rated to be $7 trillion as at 2014 showed Nigeria contributing at least $2b to this huge market. At today’s exchange rate, that is about N1 trillion worth of drugs in the health system. This is apart from what Nigerians who travel to the UK, US, India, UAE spend on medication which is estimated at $1.5b or N1.25t. When this amount is added to the $2b that is spent yearly to import pharmaceutical products, this will translate to $3.5b or N3.75t! With this revelation, Nigeria is losing about N3.75 trillion yearly to health tourism.

 Besides the funds the country spends yearly on the importation of pharmaceutical products and foreign medical bills, many prominent Nigerians both in the private and public sectors had died in foreign hospitals. With additional costs of purchasing caskets and conveying such corpses back to the country, the country is sure losing unquantifiable sums of hard earned money to foreign hospitals; this should be discouraged entirely.

One vital question on the probing minds of ordinary Nigerians is, if the leaders of those countries Nigerian leaders run to for medication had failed to build functional hospitals like their counterparts in Nigeria where would Nigerian leaders run to for medication?  The neglect of the health sector by successive leaders has also led to preventable deaths arising from diarrhoea, measles, cholera, malaria, fever, typhoid, chicken pox, polio etc. across the country. There is an urgent need for the masses of Nigeria to demand for a law that will ban public office holders from patronizing foreign hospitals. This will compel the ruling class to provide functional hospitals that will carter for the health of all and sundry.                             

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