Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

The Republic of Korea is positioning for a share of the estimated $1 billion, which 30,000 Nigerians spend per annum on medical tourism outside the country.

About 60 per cent of this amount is spent in the medical areas of cardiology, orthopedics, cancer and renal dialysis.

Korean Ambassador to Nigeria, Lee In Tae, who made this declaration, noted that Korea has consistently been ranked among the top five countries for quality healthcare provision by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Bloomberg.

He said Nigeria has become a major source market for medical tourism because of the lack of robust national health insurance framework and the import substitution gap, arising from the ability of Nigeria’s indigenous pharmaceutical companies and medical centres to only meet about 45 per cent of the demand for drugs and medical equipment.

“I would like to introduce Korea’s healthcare industry to Nigeria. In one year as an ambassador, I have had the chance to meet with government personnel, international organisations and doctors who work in Nigeria’s healthcare field.

“What they told me was though Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, its health industry infrastructure is not developed enough and asked me how Korea has developed itself in both its economy and health care industry.

“Also, I noticed that when Nigerian experts come back from Korea, they seemed fascinated about Korea’s cosmetics and medical tourism,” Lee said.

He described South Korea as an emerging leader in the global healthcare market through its advanced medical technologies, cutting-edge hardware and IT-based infrastructure, that allow patients to receive high quality healthcare at affordable prices through high-tech hardware and infrastructure like small cameras and robotic surgery.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), projects Nigeria’s death rate from cancer to rise to 75 per cent by 2030. This is because over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually.

About 80,000 people die from the disease, averaging 240 Nigerians every day or 10 Nigerians every hour. The Nigerian cancer death ratio of four in five is considered one of the worst in the world.

Thus, the envoy said Korean hospitals have excellent medical practitioners and facilities while the government has a strict regulation over hospitals to ensure optimum medical services.

The number of hospital beds per 1,000 population is about 13.55, well above the OECD countries’ average of five while in 2017, Korea has 120,630 doctors and 355,524 nurses as practicing physicians.

Lee said medical costs in Korea were only 20-30 per cent of those in the United States, while medical services were still on a similarly high level, adding that a liver transplant that costs about $575,000 in the United States would generally cost about $130,000 in Korea.

He added that Korea and Nigeria have always enjoyed a robust relationship since diplomatic ties were established in 1980, stressing that he expects bilateral relationship between the two countries to keep soaring in the years ahead.