‘Quality investment in health sector only solution to stopping medical tourism’
NARD Seeks Legislation To Mandate Public Officials To Patronise Nigerian Hospitals
Knocks have continued to trail the incessant medical tourism by President Muhammadu Buhari and other public office holders in the country despite huge yearly budgetary allocation to Villa clinic.
For the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), nothing has changed about the nation’s health facilities since 1983 when President Muhammadu Buhari first came into power as military head of state.
According to the NMA, when President Buhari came to power in 1983, the famous coup speech was that one of the reasons they were taking over from the civilians was that the nation’s hospitals had become mere consulting clinics. But between that time and now, they have remained mere consulting clinics.
In the same vein, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has advocated that it should be enshrined in our laws that public office holders be made to patronise Nigerian hospitals. And that, should they choose to seek medical treatment abroad, it should not be financed with tax prayers money.
Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) & Head of Transparency International Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani called on the President to lead by example and improve the healthcare system in Nigeria instead of always going abroad for medical check up.
Rafsanjani argued that this is one of the commitments made by the president in the past to reduce medical tourism but sadly this has not happened despite huge yearly budgetary allocation to Villa clinic. About $1 billion is lost annually by Nigeria to medical tourism.
Speaking with The Guardian in Abuja, President of NMA, Dr Uche Rowland Ojimah said that the penchant for seeking medical treatment overseas by the President and other public office holders is due to the deficiencies of the healthcare system.
He stated that medical tourism is a disease of the developing world where people cannot build their home properly and rely on other people’s facilities.
The NMA President stated that it is a shame that 62 years after Nigeria’s independence, the country has not been able to build a formidable healthcare system that can take of the health needs of her citizens.
Ojimah, who wondered why public office holders in the country have not learnt lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic with the associated lockdown that made it impossible for people to travel out of their countries, said, in the beginning, our leaders used to get treated for any illness in the country.
He noted that Nigeria has qualified medical personnel that can handle most of the medical conditions that Nigerians travel abroad for but argued that nobody becomes a qualified manpower in the absence of equipment and facilities.
He added that most times when the leaders travel outside the country for medical treatment, it is Nigerian doctors who were trained here but have relocated overseas that treat them. “We have qualified doctors here. So build your system and you will have your trained manpower. Was it not a Nigerian that operated on a pregnant woman and brought out the baby, did some surgery and put the baby back? He was trained in Ife. It is a matter of facility and training, our medical doctors are some of the best across the world in terms of basic training. That is why they are accepted outside this country,” he said.
He urged governments at all levels to adequately fund the health sector and ensure that 15 percent of annual budgets are allocated to the health sector, involve the organised private sector to build multi-specialist hospitals, procure state-of-the-art equipment, and pay health workers a living wage.
On whether Nigeria needs a law that will bar public office holders including the President from seeking medical treatment abroad, Ojimah said, “It will help if they make the law because it will keep all of us here and then everybody will know that there is a problem. Let me use this opportunity to commend former President Olusegun Obasanjo for using the National Hospital Abuja for his medical checkups. Since he left office, no other president has done that.”
Also speaking with The Guardian, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) & Head of Transparency International Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani stated that it is not right for the President and government officials to keep going for foreign medical trips while Nigeria’s health facilities are bad.
“Despite budget allocations of billions of Naira, the management of Aso Villa Clinic cannot provide the necessary equipment to treat the President there. The question then is, if the President cannot be treated in a clinic legally provided to treat his health, what happens to ordinary Nigerians who cannot afford medical care adequately.
Rafsanjani lamented that corruption was responsible for monies that are meant to revitalise the health sector being siphoned by the people who are responsible for ensuring that Nigerians enjoy better health care.
“Of course, COVID-19 has brought many challenges and lessons to everyone in the world, particular leaders who are responsible for policy formulation in order to improve the lives of common people. But it seems that for Nigeria, no lessons have been learnt, “he added.
He called on Nigerians to endeavour to vote for leaders who have character and integrity and who can responsibly put the interests of Nigerians at heart and work to overcome the challenges affecting the country at the expense of the people. “We need to vote leaders who will uphold the principles of accountability and transparency in governance which are core to every democratic setting,” he added.
On his part, President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Emeka Orji, contended that Nigerian health workers were well trained to take care of most of the cases Nigerians travel out for.
Orji, who argued that the current government has rightly banned importation of some products that can be produced in Nigeria said, “You cannot be doing that on one hand but when you have a slight headache, you travel abroad to treat yourself when the services can be accessed here in Nigeria.”
He stated that to end medical tourism in Nigeria, the approach has to be holistic. “You cannot be going abroad for medical treatment and want to stop people from going outside to practice, so the approach should be holistic and it is still the government that can end it by putting in place policies that can stop public office holders from using public funds to seek medical treatment abroad.”
According to him, “The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors has been an advocate of enshrining in our laws that public office holders should be made to patronize our hospitals in Nigeria and if they want to seek medical treatment abroad, they shouldn’t use tax prayers money. If they are using our hospitals, they will be well abreast of the situations we have in terms of manpower shortage, infrastructure and funding deficit and will be eager to address them.”
He observed that Nigeria was a signatory to the 2001 Abuja agreement by African Health Ministers to allocate 15 percent of their annual budget to health but 21 years after, Nigeria has not met the requirement.
Nigeria, in the proposed 2023 budget, allocated only 5.7 percent to health and when you keep having this inadequate budgetary allocation, it will affect the health sector.
“A lot of improvement has to be made on infrastructure and medical equipment. We need well established Centres of Excellence in every state of the Federation. Our tertiary hospitals are supposed to be centres of excellence but because we have not deployed enough resources to support the reasons for their establishment, many of them now look like general hospitals. There is need for upgrade; we do not have enough hospitals to absorb the number of medical personnel available in Nigeria at the moment. We are complaining of brain drain but even those who have decided to stay, we do not have enough tertiary hospitals to absorb them due to bureaucratic bottlenecks. Clinical staff that have left the country ought to be seamlessly replaced to address the manpower shortage we have,” Orji said.