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Would you take your kidneys to Umuahia?

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I wouldn’t. And I believe this would be the answer of most Nigerians. The next question is; Why? Before we go further, let us recap. The Federal Medical Centre, FMC Umuahia, successfully carried out two kidney transplants, according to news reports. The surgeries were facilitated by a team of medical experts from the University of Toledo Medical Centre, Ohio, USA, led by Dr Obi Ekwenna in collaboration with FMC doctors.

The reason most Nigerians wouldn’t take their kidneys to Umuahia for replacement is not because it can’t be done. It’s because we don’t believe it can be done. Our doubt is reinforced by the fact that the surgery was done in collaboration with doctors from the United States.

Does this mean we don’t have doctors here who can do it? I believe we do. So what is our problem? Why is it that even those who don’t have the money to seek medical treatment abroad would rather launch an appeal fund than settle for the local alternative?

I know a lady who had a rather challenging pregnancy. She was advised to go and have the baby in the United States. So she launched an appeal fund. Eventually, she was unable to raise enough money for the medical trip. The baby was delivered prematurely but survived and both mother and child were okay.

There has never been much doubt about the quality of medical personnel we have in this country. The problem is our institutional malaise and the irresponsible refusal of government to prioritize the things that matter the most. Seeking medical treatment abroad by government officials and the elite has become institutionalized.

Many even go abroad just for routine medical check-ups. Our leaders who are responsible for making our medical institutions work, take pride in shamelessly seeking medical treatment abroad. I find this impossible to comprehend. It is a lot better to bring medical experts into the country to perform complex procedures if we do not have the expertise here. But no, our leaders must go abroad. The money they should spend on transforming our healthcare delivery is prodigally spent abroad.

The dream of having a 21st Century healthcare delivery system in this country will remain an illusion for several centuries to come, as long as our leaders seek medical treatment abroad. And because they do so, the rest of us will never have faith in the system. That’s why even those of us who do not have the money would rather launch appeal funds so we can go abroad for treatment. It’s sickening. What is it that makes our people go abroad? Modern medical facilities and qualified doctors. What is it that makes it impossible for us to have our own modern medical facilities and qualified doctors? In fact, we already have qualified doctors. So what is the sickness afflicting our leaders which makes it impossible for them to provide quality healthcare for our people and themselves?

I think what our leaders who go abroad for medical treatment really need is brain transplant. Because if their brains are functioning properly, they would invest some of the enormous resources we have in this country in the health sector and develop our healthcare delivery to such a level that people from other parts of Africa come here for medical treatment.

Rather than feel a collective shame, we have elevated foreign medical trips to a status symbol. We proudly announce in our obituary adverts that ‘he passed away in a London hospital’, so that those reading would know that the deceased belonged to a privileged family. You would think it wasn’t possible to die in a foreign hospital! This is a symptom of our incurable stupidity and chronic profligacy.

It will soon be time for elections yet again. But in the last three years I have not seen anywhere in the country where a world class hospital has been built. No state governor has proudly announced to the rest of the country, ‘come to my state for those complex medical procedures! No need to go to India, United Kingdom or the United States!’ I don’t recall in recent memory any story about a governor or any other top government official who had a successful surgery anywhere in this country. Yet, this is the kind of story we need. Instead, we celebrate absurdity when we are told of how our surgeons carry out procedures with candle light and other such tales of primitive heroism.

Each time a leader seeks medical treatment abroad, he reinforces the perception of mediocrity and inferiority in our health sector. He is indirectly telling us that our healthcare system is hopeless. If those who are responsible for making it work wouldn’t risk their lives with it, then the message is clear. If you value your life, go abroad.

Robots are already performing medical procedures in several countries. But when my governor has a headache he flies abroad. Shamelessly. We talk about medical tourism like an alien concept. Like something that will never happen here. Yet, we have what it takes to create our own medical tourism, such that, at least, the rest of Africa looks to us for the best medical treatment available on the continent. This is the least you’d expect of the continent’s largest nation, and one with enormous resources.

It’s a negative narrative all the way. Our doctors are perpetually on strike over the same issues that never get resolved. Our teaching hospitals have become glorified morgues. Once you’re taken there with a serious ailment, you are not expected to come out alive. It was a much better story in the 70s. But today, things are so bad that for us to retrogress would actually be an improvement! This is the story of our lives. And since our leaders have refused to turn things around for the better in our medical sector, I would recommend they go on one final medical trip abroad to have their profligate attitude surgically removed!

• Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.


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