The Indian High Commission, alluding to their country’s Medical Association’s 2014 annual report, disclosed that Indian hospitals received 18,000 Nigerians on medical visas in 2012, and about 47 per
cent of outbound medical tourism from Nigeria goes to India, totalling about $260 million.
Estimates show that in 2015, India received about half a million medical tourists annually. As a matter of fact, it was recently revealed that Nigeria is at the top of the medical tourism list of Africans going to India, Israel, United Kingdom, Germany and some Mid-eastern countries for medical attention.
The rate at which Nigerians seek medical attention abroad calls for concerns especially now the country’s economy is in a shambles. It is regrettable that in spite of the country’s dwindling resources, Nigerians prefer to seek medical attention in foreign lands as successive administrations have yet to achieve an ideal healthcare system.
Hence Nigerians are often not satisfied with the quality of care they receive at home due to the quality of personnel and available equipment at health facilities and quality of drugs they get.
Even when there are adequate facilities and well-trained personnel, some wealthy Nigerians still prefer to travel abroad for medical care. The reasons range from showing off the elevated status and wealth to the lack of trust and confidence in the Nigerian healthcare delivery system. Moreover, those occupying public offices are entitled to free or government-sponsored medical care, so they opt for foreign hospitals as a way of wasting the country’s resources. After all they will not spend their hard-earned money.
Nowadays, public office-holders in the country travel abroad for medical challenges as ordinary as malaria. It was estimated by the Federal Ministry of Health in 2014 that public officials travelling abroad for medical care cost a whopping sum of N198.95 billion. This is staggering and a sheer waste of scarce foreign exchange. The money being wasted on foreign medical trips yearly which runs into millions of dollars could be properly channelled into providing and establishing world-class hospitals in different parts of the country which would benefit the rich and the poor.
A former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, attributed the lack of standard medical facilities in the country to the love to run to foreign countries for medical attention, adding that by Private Public Partnership arrangement, the government can transform the nation’s hospital facilities.
As years go by, the question being asked in certain quarter is ‘What is government doing to improve on those centres and the much-needed medical expertise to prevent this increasing capital flight?’
Government is, however, aiming to reduce the number of patients who travel abroad for medical treatment annually by banning public officials from seeking medical treatment at public expense. In addition to improving health care services, the government and healthcare institutions should partner with each other and plan strategies aimed at encouraging more Nigerians to seek treatment
The Minister of Health, Mr. Isaac Adewole, disclosed in Abuja recently that the government has adopted a three- point strategic approach aimed at checking medical tourism. He added that by the end of the present administration’s first year, “we should be able to reduce medical tourism such that in five years’ time, less than 20 per cent of Nigerians will go abroad for treatment; there is also the need for Public Private Partnerships (PPP).”
Furthermore, the private investors have over the years been striving to curb medical tourism by establishing hospitals with the state-of-art equipment. An example is the Lash Eye Centre in Kaduna and its partnership with Dr. Agarwal’s Eye Institute India, among others.
If the private sector is encouraged to take this bold step in the provision of qualitative medical services outside, it would save the amount of money spent outside the country for treatment.
It is, however, important to equip the hospitals and other public health facilities as well as re-orient the medical and health personnel to adopt positive work attitude to ensure quality and efficient healthcare delivery to our people. Hence, boost the capacity of our health workers to enable them render accurate diagnosis of diseases and sustain the training and retraining of staff.
The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) could be a veritable avenue used to reduce medical tourism. The Scheme, over the years, has done tremendously well in tackling health issues, especially for the middle class and lower class; thus if well-funded it could assist in ensuring adequate medical care for Nigerians.
Herbal medicine is another initiative that can be exploited to enhance general health and well-being, and it is also used alone for specific health problems or with modern medicine. There is also the need to facilitate the integration of herbal medicine into the healthcare delivery system. This will stimulate research and development in the processing and packaging of herbal products.
Added to this, is the need to discourage importation of such products mostly from China and India currently flooding our markets? Reduced interest in the quest for chemically synthesised drugs and a desire by the global pharmaceutical companies to promote “Green Pharmacy “will also promote utilisation.