Over the years, the number of Nigerians, especially the affluent ones, travel abroad for medical reasons has been on the increase. Top government officials have the propensity for travelling abroad for medical reasons at taxpayers’ expense, it is even more disheartening and worrisome when you see patients lying in critical conditions in Nigerian hospitals; soliciting large sums of money for surgeries in hospitals mostly in India and some western countries.
One wonders what happens to the acclaimed ‘world standard’ hospitals we build and commission amid fanfare in the country, when those who built these so-called world-class hospitals don’t have faith in their handiwork?
There is no gainsaying that the country’s health sector is lagging behind compared to other developed countries of the world, but one would have expected the sector to compete favourably at least with those within the African continent owing to the purported rejuvenating, building and transforming of our healthcare institutions from the primary to the tertiary level.
With the series of claimed turnaround in the sector over the years, one wonders why Nigerians who can afford to do so constantly go abroad for medical check-ups, even for ailments that can readily be treated with ease in Nigeria, or are we just deceiving ourselves to score cheap political points?
A visit to some health institutions in the country will leave one disappointed. In some hospitals, the dearth of medical personnel is a major problem, making patients to wait endlessly in order to get medical attention. While in some cases, lack of equipment and drugs to be administered to the patients are the issues on ground, as a result of the foregoing, patients die from minor ailments that can easily be treated.
Equally worrisome is the fact that hospitals are not spared from the erratic power supply plaguing the country, as a result they, even when surgeries are to be performed, have to rely on electricity from generating sets, where avaliable.
According to a medical practitioner, Dr. Oluwole Badmus, “our government’s lip service towards the health sector over the years has not paid off, apart from the infrastructure decay in the sector they renege on agreements and that is why we result to strikes when need be.”
Speaking further, he said, “we see what is obtained in other countries and that is why some of us prefer to ply our trade outside the country, it’s not because of lack of patriotism, but for how long shall we continue to make suggestions and recommendations and nothing is done about it?
“The medical profession is all about saving lives and to achieve this the necessary tools have to be put in place by the appropriate authorities, ‘some private hospitals are even more well equipped than some tertiary health institutions in the country because they are well funded,” he concluded.
In recent times, medical tourism has been embarked upon mostly by politicians, especially those alleged or indicted in one criminal act or the other. Even when they are barred from travelling abroad, through court injunctions, they maneuvered their way to ensure they travel out, so one wonders here again, what is so peculiar with their ailments that cannot be handled locally, or are they trying to exploit that means to evade justice?
Calls have been made for the ban of government officials and their children from seeking medical treatments abroad, as well as sending their children and wards to private and foreign schools, to force them to revive public health institutions and schools, but all have been to no avail.
Mr. Azuka Nnamdi a legal practitioner also lent his voice to the issue, ‘the rot is not peculiar to the health sector alone, education, electricity and the rest other sectors are not spared, or how do you explain the use of generating set in an Electricity Distribution Company’s office.” The same reason they go abroad for medical ‘tourism’ or treatment is the same reason they send their children out to school abroad, all because the entire system has collapsed.
According to Azuka, “these countries we go to for medical treatment are advancing everyday in all the sectors of their economy that is why a country like India is getting fame for its prowess in the field of medicine. Apart from the failure to meet Nigerians health needs, the internally generated revenue that can be accrued to the country’s IGR now becomes capital flight to other countries, boosting the economies of those countries.”
The logical fact is that a rot in a particular sector automatically affects all other sectors invariably, that is why the country needs general overhauling of the entire system to get things right, so that the entire system doesn’t come down crashing like a pack of cards.
There is no substitute for a massive rejuvenation of the health sector, due to the large population of country and the level of the health needs of Nigerians, the country is a big market for health products and services.
Through sound government programmes, it is very possible to attract the best possible health service providers from any part of the world to set up shop in Nigeria.
Already, many state governments have put in huge investments in the health sector, inviting renowned health service managers from around the globe to work with them on a public-private partnership, PPP basis.
Dearth of equipments and manpower as well as infrastructural decadence are not just some of the problems facing the health sector, inconsistent policies that characterised successive governments is another clog in the wheel of progress.
The National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, introduced during the Obasanjo era seems to have suffered a stillbirth. If that programme had been implemented as conceived, there would be fewer reasons for foreign medical trips. Only a successfully implemented NHIS would take health services to both high and low and attract investors in the health sector.
In order not to derail from the context of our subject matter, going abroad for medical treatment in some exceptional cases that cannot be handled locally due to the rarity, is no big deal, such circumstances can occur in cases where the disease in question is so rare that path finding solutions in other countries with more advanced technology is the only option.
Similarly, wealthy individuals who decide to spend their money on medical bills abroad are at liberty to do that, the problem arises only in cases where government officials go abroad at taxpayers’ expense for the treatment of ailments that apparently can be managed in Nigeria.
There is no gainsaying that our health institutions are comatose and need urgent surgical attention. This is because our population increases on daily basis so also are our institutions overstretched, owing to this, adequate provision to meet this need should be the germane concern of the government so that we do not continue to loss manpower and resources to this trend called medical tourism.