Experts to Brainstorm on Reversing Nigeria’s Medical Tourism

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Martins Ifijeh
As part of efforts to curb medical tourism in Nigeria, health professionals and specialists in various medical fields are set to brainstorm on best ways to limit or stop it in the country.

On behalf of the experts, a neurosurgeon and advocate against medical tourism in Nigeria, Dr Biodun Ogungbo, said the theme of the conference coming up at the Covenant University in Ota, Ogun State, 20th July, 2016, was“Reversing Medical Tourism: strengthening local capabilities, and encouraging foreign collaborations”.

According to him, over $1b is being spent by Nigerians on medical tourism abroad annually adding that if the country had been building sustainable programmes in health, it would have been tackled the issue by now.

He said Thailand was an example where government and private individuals stepped up and donated equipment, theatres and even built whole hospitals for communities, which was in contrast to the Nigerian government officials who pay lip service to the reversal of medical tourism but are on the first flight out when they fall ill.

“The National Health Act and all policies are quickly forgotten. For as long as each person feels his own life is more important than that of the collective, we cannot make progress. Secondly, the Ministers of Health and Governors buy equipment for Nigerian hospitals and then keep them to rot in underground garages. Directors of health parastatals use money earmarked for health projects to travel to Dubai for shopping sprees and medical check-ups,” he laments.

According to him, Nigeria’s political leaders lack confidence in healthcare facilities established by them and prefer to go abroad for treatment. “Aside the lack of confidence in the health sector, previous President of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr Osahon Enabulele, argued that the major reason for the medical pilgrimage includes persistent negligence and under-development of the health sector.

“Dr. Rilwanu Mohammed of the FCT Primary Health Care Board, says that more than 210 primary healthcare centres exist in Abuja but only 30 per cent are actually operating. Let us fix the system, if we do that things will work in this country, then nobody will travel.”

Ogugbo added that medical tourism can only be curbed when the healthcare infrastructure, equipment and personnel, are well developed.

Also in his remarks, the organiser of the conference and Medical Director, Ace Medicare Clinics, Dr Wole Kukoyi, said government was not planning to fix healthcare in 2017 by bringing in Universal Health Care (NHIS), National Health Agenda (NHA), National Health Gazette (NHG) and the National Health Act to stop outbound medical tourism.

He said, “Together, these are part of a new focus in the ministry to stop medical tourism. Together, they are bound to fail without real commitment and desire to ensure that we can treat anyone and everyone, anywhere and everywhere, at the point of need, right here in Nigeria.”

According to Kukoyi, the conference was totally dedicated to efforts by various stakeholders in mitigating or reversing the unfortunate trend as discussions would focus on how to identify and promote local capabilities and develop manpower locally.

“Colleagues from diaspora and organisations outside the country will also collaborate to achieve this important national task. “

He said there was need to improve the quality of healthcare delivery in the country, restore the confidence of citizens in the health sector, and, more importantly, create the enabling environment for the Nigerian medical practitioners in the Diaspora to return home and also boost Nigeria’s medical tourism.