30th October, 2013
Over the years, Nigerians, especially the elite and the political class who have the wherewithal seek medical treatment abroad even for minor ailments that could be treated here in the country. This has resulted in huge capital flight, thus undermining the so much-talked about reforms in the health sector.
Nigeria is believed to be one of the countries with the largest number of medical tourists. President of Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Osahon Enabulele revealed at a stakeholders’ forum held recently in Sokoto that Nigerians spend about N120 billion each year to seek medical treatment abroad. The huge number of Nigerians who travel to India for same purpose on monthly basis is put at 5,000 people with each tourist spending an average of $30,000 per month. This is a colossal loss to the Nigerian health sector. This has negatively impacted on Nigerian hospitals where there is a severe dearth of personnel and modern infrastructure that can match the ones abroad.
Though seeking medical treatment abroad doesn’t come cheap, most Nigerians still choose to part with any amount to go on the trip. One of the reasons Nigerians prefer to travel abroad to seek medical attention is not farfetched. They do not want to gamble with their lives in the hands of personnel they claim have little or no training. Even the few professionals that are well trained are battling with the setback posed by the lack of modern medical equipment to work with. A visit to an average hospital in the country can easily give a clear picture of the sorry state of facilities in most hospitals in Nigeria, especially the public or government owned hospitals. Though there is so much talk about billions of naira being budgeted for refurbishing decrepit hospitals, there is nothing to show for such huge budgetary allocations every year.
There are a large number of indigenous medical personnel who are well trained and can even do better than their foreign counterparts but the absence of world-class infrastructure and absence of the right environment to work have hampered their performance. This has led to their migration to overseas and Arabian countries in the last few decades.
There are a few good hospitals in the country but they are not enough for a nation with a population of over 160 million. Besides, this handful of hospitals are located in urban areas at the detriment of the rural population. The Federal Government should address this issue urgently if the present reform in the health sector is to make any meaningful impact on an average Nigerian, especially the masses.
Government should establish general hospitals in every local government area across the country. It might seem like a herculean task but with years of proper planning and the right political will, it can be done to stave off the deprivation rural folks are facing in the area of healthcare delivery.
If the huge amount of foreign exchange or dollars spent by the elite and public office holders overseas is invested in improving health facilities in the country, the positive impact it will have on the Nigerian health sector and by extension the economy of the nation will be tremendous. What Indian or American medical personnel can do, their Nigerians counterparts can do better if the needed facilities are provided. And in the long run there won’t be any need for the wasteful overseas medical trip public office holders embark on frequently.