The stakeholders must come out with a solution to the country’s health problems

The revelation at the annual general conference of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) that no fewer than 2,000 medical workers leave the country annually for developed countries is a trend that should concern all stakeholders. What that suggests clearly is that we have an emergency situation in a critical sector and the authorities must find a solution to the challenge in the interest of our country. But it is also our hope that medical practitioners will examine all the issues impinging on healthcare delivery in the country, including the increasing rate of medical tourism on which the nation is losing hundreds of billions of naira annually. What drives the compulsion to go abroad to seek medical help for those who can afford it has to do with excellence. People troop to places where the standard of healthcare delivery reflects the general way of doing things.

There is a psychological aspect to seeking cures. For the many Nigerians who travel abroad to seek medical solutions to whatever ails them, they already have a basic belief that Saudi, German, English, American or even Indian doctors will, in their care, reflect the values that make those nations great. Even in terminal cases, the dignity of going to die in these good places is satisfying enough for the “colonial” mindset of affluent Nigerians. That perhaps explains why it has become fashionable for some colourful obituaries to announce that the deceased passed away in an American or German hospital!

The implication of such a state of affairs is that it does not matter how many health institutions we build especially in the public sector. For as long as the standard of practice in those facilities reflects our general Nigerian way of “anything goes”, we might just be wasting resources. In our public health sector some fancy equipment is acquired and allowed to break down a few months after commissioning.

But we cannot gloss over the fact that medical tourism is a serious issue in our country today. The aggregate amount being spent by rich Nigerians on medical bills abroad is so staggering as to make domestic investment in healthcare a sound business proposition. Our public policy should then be driven from the perspective of canvassing this sector as one worthy of increased private investment and government support with the assurance that such ventures would be profitable. The same thing has happened in the education sector where Nigerians have risen to the occasion with world class high schools and even universities. There needs to be a commitment to supporting investors especially in the tertiary healthcare delivery sector through more attractive credit windows by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Health is no less important than agriculture, power, aviation, etc., that have been granted massive financial concessions.

However, we probably need to de-link expert tertiary healthcare delivery from the tourism part. Let us encourage the establishment of good health facilities preferably as collaborative business venture with experts from nations whose professionals have excelled in this area. The point here about medical tourism is that most people would not make Nigeria their first choice as things currently stand. We simply do not have a hospitality industry nor have we done anything significant to make our country attractive to sensible visitors. Tourism thrives on tolerable decency, security, basic essential services and infrastructure that encourage free movement of persons and backpacks.

Like in most other sectors, the challenge of healthcare delivery in Nigeria also comes with tremendous opportunities. But it would require the coming together of all the stakeholders to chart a way forward.