Reversing capital flight through health tourism
ON daily basis, the media-radio television, newspapers, social media,-are awash with pictures of once vibrant young Nigerians, almost eaten up by one ailment or the other, seeking assistance to enable them travel abroad for treatment.
From United Kingdom, Canada, United States, China to India, the bills do not come cheap. It ranges from N2miilon to as much as N10 million, fees that are beyond the reach of an average Nigerian.
With time tickling, some rarely survive while waiting for the required fund from public spirited Nigerians before giving up the ghost.
On the flip side, most of our political leaders, perhaps as a way of showing class, take the next available flight to various parts of the world to seek medical attention, for ailments as ridiculous as stomach upset, migraine, and bone fracture, among others.
Their only excuse: lack of critical medical equipment to diagnose the ailment and low quality treatment centres. In the course of this health tourism, Nigeria loses about N99 Billion yearly.
But with foresight and determination, this trend will soon be reversed, going by the steps taken by the Akwa Ibom Government.
Indeed, only yesterday, the outgoing Governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio, commission a 317-bed, state of the art hospital as part of the 165 projects lined up for commissioning before his exit from the Governor’s Lodge on Friday.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Akpabio lamented the loss of several billions of naira in foreign exchange to health tourism as well as thousands of jobs amid growing restiveness among millions of unemployed youths in the country “We lose billions of dollars every year to medical trips abroad. We have also lost a lot of people, not because we don’t have the expertise in the country.
We needed a hospital that can run at international standard. I decided to build general hospitals in local governments that did not have and in areas that are very populated, even if the local government already had one. I found out that what we have here can go for a teaching hospital.
We also decided to have a hospital that would answer to the needs of Nigerians in terms of advance health management and that was why we built the Ibom Specialist Hospital. It is not like a teaching hospital, it is like a quaternary hospital, it is higher than a teaching hospital.
We are starting it with about six modular theatres with equipments, that if for instance you are doing a cardiological investigation on a patient, cardiologists from around the world can hook up to the theatre and see real time what is going on and make their contributions to the examination and operation. That kind of hospital cannot be run by government; we needed to hand it over to a private sector.
That is the one that will be a revenue earner. So, instead of rich and wealthy Nigerians and nationals of other West African countries going abroad, it is easier to come here. Sometimes, people die in the air while being transported abroad for treatment.
We wanted to shorten travel time for patients going abroad and at the same time get revenue for the state from health tourism. It is a beautiful concept, it is also very big.
It is comfort combined with excellence. We have about 380 suites and so many operating wards. We are starting with 150 expatriates all at once.
We are in agreement with a Swiss hospital group and an Arab healthcare group in partnership with Cardio Care in Lagos, which is a group of cardiologists. We are providing a place for a lot of Nigerian skilled personnel abroad to come back home.
We are providing a place that is equal to where they are operating from. The MRI system we have installed in that hospital is the best in the whole of West Africa. There is none in Nigeria today. We went for the best because we want to save lives.
Nigerians don’t believe that government can work. Nigerians believe that some of the things we show as uncommon transformation are not true. They believe we took pictures from the internet and did computer simulation on them as our projects. They don’t believe that these things can work, but seeing believing.”
The governor reiterated. If you think the commissioning is all about the hospital, you will be mistaken as the governor commissions an average of 30 projects a day since the commencement of the programme. Everywhere he went; it was celebration of a rare man imbued with uncommon knack for aesthetic, finesse, and above all good quality works that can stand the test of time.
The reception and accolades showered on Akpabio naturally sits well with his slogan: ‘We started strong and we will finish strong.’
The projects give a clear vision of a total reinvention of the state, which is tailored towards taking away the minds of indigenes of the state from Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, while creating conducive environment for investment.
For instance, while envisaging the caliber of visitors that the hospitals, oil and gas business, will attract to the state, the governor also considered befitting hotels, one of which is the Four Point By Sheraton Hotel, located in Ikot Ekpene. Sitting at the city centre, the 14-storey oval shaped facility is a sight to behold.
According to official information from the government, the edifice has 146 rooms, 14 suites, 600-seater banquet hall and a 100-seater in-house restaurant, among other amenities. “In the hospitality industry, we are adding two hotels to the state – Hilton and Sheraton hotel. And by the time they become operational, it would add revenue to the state.
We have created the ambience for industrial revolution and a lot of industries have started coming,” Akpabio said. Also, the Ibom Tropicana, a civic centre in Uyo, with features of a mini-city is among the projects to be commissioned this week.
A tour of the premises showed that massive construction work has been done in different segments of the multibillion naira entertainment centre which is designed to comprise not just a six-screen Cineplex, a five-star hotel, wet and dry park, conference centre, but also a large shopping mall.
The large shopping mall will make anyone have a feeling common with being inside a standard mall in the West.
The layers of the shops and its glitters, the expansive waiting area and the seamless connection of the mall to other facilities at the Ibom Tropicana are all complements.
Now, the Cineplex part of the entertainment centre which opened about four years ago has become a beehive of activities, where fun seekers have turned their second home, especially during weekends. Besides, the entire Ibom Tropicana has become an attraction for school-age children learning through field experience in addition to their classroom coaching.
And with free medical care for children and pregnant women, five brand new flyovers, and 35 bridges, including a suspended one across the state, completion of the 191 megawatts Ibom Power Plant, construction and commissioning of a glass processing plant and 24,000 housing units already, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, said the achievements of Akpabio in the last eight years have been amazing and remarkable.
“Within eight years of the outgoing administration, so much has been achieved in all sectors, and encapsulated into what has been generally referred to as the uncommon transformation of our dear state. This has been made possible by properly channeling the resources of the state to areas of critical needs,” he stated.
The Commissioner for Special duties, Mr. Emmanuel Enoidem, whose efforts have seen many of the projects attain a level of standards required, said that the current atmosphere in Akwa Ibom “shows that we have a government on ground that is determined to work the entire tenure.
“You know that some governments get to a skipping stage towards the end of their tenure, but this is one government that planned an active eight years of good governance. “And if you notice, there has never been any six months in Akwa Ibom that we don’t commission projects.
That was the commitment that Governor Godswill Akpabio gave to the Akwa Ibom people. On the day of his second tenure inauguration, he told his people that he will be commissioning projects till the last day he leaves office and that is exactly what we are experiencing today.
So he had programmed the government since he came into the office such that there will be no inactivity.”
Indeed, Akpabio will be leaving for Abuja on Friday to join his colleagues in the Senate in a blaze of glory, even as his people will continue to remember that he left a state better than he met it.