Nigeria’s health care system is under severe pressure. So much so that 3,000 Nigerians travel each month for treatment in India, often being so ill that they are not really safe to travel. Nevertheless, a local doctor wants to make Nigeria a medical tourism destination.
Dr Moses Udoh of the Akwa Ibom Diaspora Network (AIDN) wants to make Akwa Ibom in the Niger Delta, Africa’s medical tourism destination, “We can position our state as the destination of choice for the treatment of heart diseases, stroke and hip replacement.” Udoh does not actually live in Nigeria, but goes there every year on a medical mission from his US home, as a member of the American Board of Internal Medicine. He argues that that Akwa Ibom could become the medical tourism capital for Africa where people would fly in to get cardiac treatment, intensive cancer treatment and other specialized medical treatments obtainable in western countries.
But there is a snag to Udoh’s plan. There is a healthcare shortage in Akwa Ibom and to make it work some organization or government would have to fund the development, building and running of a new large western-style international hospital. Udoh claims to be working with other US specialists to talk to healthcare institutions with the hope of establishing an American-style hospital that would be internationally recognised as a destination of choice for treatment of acute and complex diseases.
According to former minister of health, Professor Babatunde Oshotimehien, Nigerians are spending $200 million a year sending 3000 Nigerians a month to India. Nigeria’s desperate economic situation means free healthcare is not readily available and many cannot afford local care. According to Oshotimehien, thousands have died due to complications arising from far distance travel after life saving surgery. Serious medical conditions such as heart disease have led to many Nigerians going abroad for urgent surgery. Many of these are not really fit to travel there and back by normal air. Nigeria’s healthcare system has degenerated to the extent that many patients no longer have confidence in the system. According to Nigerian media reports, local statistics show that not less than 3000 Nigerian patients visit Indian for medical tourism monthly and out of the number, about 1000 are mis-diagnosed. These range from emergency or critical life saving operations to routine care. Few use medical evacuation services.
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(UNPFA) Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin says, "The state of healthcare in Nigeria, has forced many patients to go abroad for all manners of treatment that could be confidently treated and handled in Nigeria. The country has to make concerted efforts to upgrade her health care facilities to the standard that would attract patronage from patients outside Nigeria, or stop Nigerians travelling overseas. Nigerian medical professionals are leaving the country for greener pastures due to lack of infrastructure. Most equipment in our hospitals is either broken down or obsolete. Where you see good ones, they are not in use because people that are supposed to use them are not properly trained. This clearly demonstrates why Nigerians will continue to seek medical care elsewhere unless something urgent is done to rebuild the nation’s health system with a view to returning the patients confidence. But this situation can also be seen as a big opportunity for Nigeria and Nigerians to take a lead at becoming a hub for medical tourism. This can be achieved through; infrastructural development and improved competences of personnel by continuous training of doctors and other health workers.”
Dr. Wale Alabi of Global Resources & Projects International (GRPI) is calling on the Nigerian government to embrace private-public partnerships for infrastructure development in healthcare by investing and ensuring that the country’s health system is strongly built to cater for its citizens and also attract patients from the sub-region, “If proper attention is not given towards resuscitating the collapsing health sector, Nigeria may end up losing the sector to foreigners. Improving healthcare services in our health institutions will discourage the habit of encouraging capital flight from Nigeria through medical tourism. The trend in medical tourism in Nigeria could become an economic threat to the nation’s health industry and scarce foreign exchange. The trend represents a drain on the nation’s scarce resources and a disincentive to the improvement of healthcare services.”