James Emejo in Abuja
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, yesterday lamented that the country loses about $2 billion in foreign exchange annually to medical tourism.
Ehanire, however, added that the federal government will partner the private sector in developing innovative strategies to provide healthcare access to all Nigerians as well as foster health workforce retention.
The minister, at the inauguration of the Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratory and Hospital complex, in Abuja, which is owned by the Limi Hospital Group, described the facility as a laudable project in the specialty area of cardiac care and encourage more private sector investment, both independently and in partnership with the federal government.
He urged the operators to also take advantage of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s N100 billion healthcare intervention loan facility to develop the sector.
He said cardiac care is currently one of the most highly sought-after specialised health services in the world, quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO) which described cardiovascular diseases as the major cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives or 31 per cent of all annual global death.
He said: “In Nigeria, cardiovascular disease remains a great public health concern; the non-communicable disease programme under the Federal Ministry of Health has reported that cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 11 per of the over 2 million non-communicable disease related deaths annually.
The minister stated that the need for these services has been on the rise.
He said: “This can be attributed to derailing lifestyle habits by Nigerians, compounded with the dearth of cardiac care capacity; there is a limited availability of standard and functional cardiac centres with adequate human resources.”
However, the minister explained that a cardinal problem with retaining cardiac specialists has been the rising trend of health workforce migration, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have witnessed deliberate actions by high income countries to attract health workers. Despite these issues, the private sector has continued to complement government efforts to fill these gaps and stem threats of depreciation of available health services,” he added.
Ehanire said the COVID-19 pandemic had prompted global lockdowns, forcing countries to introduce solutions to basic socio-economic and health problems.
He said Nigerians who previously had sought specialised care abroad were compelled to seek medical attention in country.
“The pandemic also triggered a realisation of the strength of health systems across the world; having thoroughly shaken even strong and resilient systems in Europe and America, hitherto popular medical tourism destinations.
“Our health system, fragile to begin with, thankfully has been able to meet the challenge of both the pandemic response, and the increased demand for specialist care, so far.
“The private sector has been a very instrumental partner in this effort. We value the partnership and intend to build it up,” he stated.
Group Medical Director, Limi Hospitals, Dr. Iseko Iseko, said the hospital had successfully carried out over 70 minimally invasive interventional procedures between February and November.
According to him, this lends credence to the fact that no one necessarily needs to travel abroad to access highly specialised healthcare.
The Medical Director, Cardiocare, Dr. Oyindamola Awofisoye, said the facility would augment the ability of Nigerians to receive treatment for complex cardiovascular problems without having to travel abroad.
He said: “Besides, many cardiovascular emergencies come without giving so much time for someone to be flown abroad alive– so this type of home-based solution we offer should be welcomed by all stakeholders.”