Leading by Example in Curbing Medical Tourism

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Leading by example in curbing medical tourism
Medical Tourism

Very recently, the Nigerian media space was awash with the news that the country’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, had a successful surgical procedure at the Duchess International Hospital in Lagos. According to a statement by his physician, Dr Doyin Dosunmu-Ogunbi, the VP had undergone the procedure on account of recurrent pain in his right femur and was recuperating at a very good speed, four days after the operation.

Dosunmu-Ogunbi, “All aspects of the Vice President’s post-operative care have proceeded satisfactorily so far.  His multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, and allied health practitioners are extremely pleased with his progress. We will continue to update the public as he progresses with his treatment.”

As we wish the vice president a full recovery, it must also be noted that this piece of news is commendable on two fronts. First, it is another incontrovertible proof that the Nigerian healthcare system is blessed with competent professionals, who can match their counterparts in other parts of the world. Little wonder that they have continued to be in high demand in many foreign countries. Second, the VP’s action is a reflection of what it means to lead by example, as well as a demonstration of confidence in the country’s healthcare system.

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It is no surprise that this step by Prof. Osinbajo, has generated positive reactions across the country. Prominent among these was the statement by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in which it lauded the VP’s confidence in Nigerian doctors and the healthcare system, while also calling on other politicians and prominent Nigerians to emulate his example in ending medical tourism in Nigeria. In his message, the NMA President, Dr. Uche Ojinmah also emphasized the need to urgently revamp the nation’s fragile healthcare system for the benefit of the citizenry.

Indeed, this development has, again, brought to the fore the need for the Nigerian government to pay more careful attention to the state of the country’s health system. Taking decisive steps towards addressing the infrastructural deficits and decays, as well as the poor working conditions of health workers, is a wise investment that will benefit both the leaders and the led. Ultimately, it will significantly help to discourage medical tourism which contributes immensely to the country’s dwindling finances. It is particularly worrisome that the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, recently admitted that Nigeria spends over N500 billion on medical tourism annually.

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Government’s role in curbing medical tourism

The government must not be quick to forget the lessons of the recent global pandemic, during which restrictions of movement prevented even the rich from traveling out for medical attention.  There must be more commitment on the part of the government to invest more in the health sector, in terms of financial resources and progressive policies.

Moreover, in making the country’s medical facilities more attractive and functional to both the rich and poor, political officers must themselves be committed to seeing the medical facilities within the country as all they have.  This reorientation will invariably help in driving the changes needed to revamp the health system.

One of such changes is the limited budgetary allocation to healthcare. Successive administrations in the country have institutionalised defaulting on the recommended 15 per cent budgetary allocation proposed in the Abuja Declaration in 2001. In the past three years, allocations to the health sector have been 4.3 per cent, 3.7 per cent, and 4.52 per cent respectively. Such paltry funding cannot build a health system that will discourage medical tourism.

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Another expected major change is in the number of medical facilities and specialist hospitals in the country. Currently, there are about 33,303 general hospitals, 20,278 primary health centres, as well as 59 teaching hospitals and federal medical centres in the country. These figures are grossly inadequate for a country of over 200 million people. According to the 2022 rating for African countries with the best healthcare delivery systems by Numbeo’s Healthcare Index, South Africa occupies the number one position, closely followed by Kenya, Tunisia and Algeria in second, third and fourth positions, respectively. Nigeria, the supposed giant of Africa, occupies fifth position. With our huge endowments in human and material resources, nothing stops Nigeria from occupying the first position.

Once more, we urge government, at all levels, to see the step taken by the vice president and the laudable performance by the Duchess International Hospital team as a challenge to give every segment of the nation’s healthcare system the attention it deserves. In doing so, there are great prospects for the entire country in enjoyment of qualitative healthcare, provision of employment opportunities, reduction in healthcare brain-drain, as well as boosting the nation’s revenue base.

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