In a bold endeavor to reshape its healthcare landscape, Nigeria is gearing up to position itself as a premier hub for medical tourism, aiming to reclaim the substantial $1.6 billion expenditure that flows abroad annually.
According to modernghana.com, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Director of the Council of Nigerians in Diaspora, has issued a rallying cry to the global Nigerian community, urging support in promoting the nation as a compelling destination for medical tourism.
She made the request during a gala dinner that was held in the United Kingdom to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association, which is an organization for Nigerians who live outside of Nigeria.
Spokesperson Abdur-Rahman Balogun of NiDCOM, in an official statement, expressed that Dabiri-Erewa commended the nurses and midwives for their selfless endeavors and urged them to persevere in their duties.
She expressed confidence in the ability of Nigerian medical professionals living abroad, working together with their counterparts in Nigeria, to transform Nigeria into an attractive destination for medical tourism. Furthermore, she emphasized President Bola Tinubu’s dedication to enhancing healthcare facilities and initiatives in Nigeria.
On Tuesday, December 12, 2023, President Bola Tinubu stated that his administration’s focus was on enhancing and prioritizing Nigeria’s health sector. This would be achieved through substantial investments and a higher allocation of funds in the proposed 2024 budget.
Therefore, he appealed to Nigerian health workers who are practicing abroad to sacrifice their time and return home to serve their people. He pleaded with countries that were simmering Nigerian health workers to take into consideration the interests of Nigeria.
Tinubu made the call for Nigeria’s Health Sector Renewal Investment Initiative at the unveiling ceremony held at the State House in Abuja.
Dabiri-Erewa urged for enhanced collaborations to promote the sharing of knowledge, telemedicine projects, and programs for transferring skills. Wendy Olayiwola, the head of the Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association, highlighted the association’s commitment to offering expertise by working together with medical institutions in Nigeria.
In August 2010, Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu, who served as Nigeria’s Minister of Health at the time, referenced a study that disclosed the presence of more than 5,000 Nigerian-trained doctors practicing in the United States. It was estimated that out of the total 72,000 Nigerian doctors registered with the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council in 2017, approximately 35,000 were employed overseas.
Olayiwola stressed the importance of improving communication and networking platforms in order to establish a collaborative environment that fosters the sharing of ideas and best practices. Because the UK and the US are the primary choices for these migrant doctors due to Nigeria’s provision of healthcare services at comparatively lower expenses than other developed countries. As a result, it draws patients seeking affordable medical treatment, especially from nearby African nations.
It has been suggested that Nigeria is home to a considerable quantity of healthcare professionals who possess exceptional skills and qualifications. Many of these professionals have undergone training at renowned institutions across the globe, ensuring a superior level of care for individuals seeking medical treatment in the country.
This is as Nigeria boasts state-of-the-art medical facilities that are among the most advanced in Africa, offering a comprehensive array of surgical procedures and treatments. As a result, it attracts medical tourists in search of specialized care, including cardiovascular surgery, cancer treatment, and organ transplants.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the former Minister of Information and Culture, expressed that Nigeria had made preparations to become a hub for medical tourism and address the issue of brain drain in the health sector by establishing top-quality healthcare facilities.
He made these remarks following his visit to the Duchess International Hospital in Lagos on May 9, 2022. The then minister stressed that these advanced facilities would not only reduce the need for Nigerians to seek medical treatment abroad but also contribute to preserving foreign exchange reserves and generating employment opportunities.
During his tour of the hospital, Mohammed highlighted the purposeful design, cutting-edge technology, and exceptional medical expertise that would provide Nigerians with the finest available healthcare worldwide.
Alhaji Mohammed voiced his concern about the evident data that Nigerians spend an annual amount ranging between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion on medical tourism. He deemed this expenditure a major burden on the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
Furthermore, he expressed his contentment with the fact that a notable number of doctors employed at Duchess International Hospital, a branch of Reddington Hospital, are Nigerian professionals who had previously undergone training and worked overseas. However, “they have now decided to come back to Nigeria due to the availability of well-equipped medical facilities and a favorable working environment.”
According to reports, Nigeria’s expenditure on foreign medical services in the first quarter of 2023 amounted to a total of USD 1.04 million. The data for this period was obtained from the Weekly Insights Report, which sourced it from the Central Bank of Nigeria. It was disclosed that the amount spent in the first quarter of 2023 saw a 40.54% increase compared to the $0.74 million spent in the first quarter of 2022.
It is undeniable that Nigeria consistently receives low ratings in terms of its healthcare system and infrastructure, particularly when considering its economy’s size and available resources. The inadequate healthcare system in Nigeria is often disregarded due to the medical tourism practiced by the country’s political elite.
Analysts assert that the primary cause of the incompetence and blatant disregard of the people and the constitution by those responsible for the healthcare system is a lack of trust in it. Moreover, they are able to afford these trips using taxpayer money.
As an illustration, during his tenure from 2015 to 2023, former President Muhammadu Buhari spent a total of 237 days receiving medical treatment abroad.
Buhari’s unmatched medical tourism in Nigeria’s history also led to additional expenses for the Nigerian Air Force’s aircraft (NAF 001). Estimates indicate that these trips incur costs ranging from N1.1 billion to N5.4 billion in various operational expenses, such as fuel, landing fees, and parking fees.
According to the WHO, Nigeria has some of the worst health indicators worldwide. It carries 10 percent of the global disease burden and has the highest rate of malaria infections, as well as the third highest burden of HIV. Moreover, Nigeria has alarmingly high rates of infant and maternal mortality.
The source went further, saying that the chances of a woman dying during pregnancy or childbirth in Nigeria are one in 15, whereas in developed countries, it is one in 5,000.
Despite these challenges, Mohammed highlighted that the CBN responded to the COVID-19 situation by establishing the N100 billion Healthcare Sector Intervention Fund, which has now been increased to N200 billion.
This fund aims to provide financial support to the healthcare sector through long-term, low-cost financing. “You are also aware of the federal government’s intervention in the health sector through the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).
“NSIA has invested a total of $22.5 million in two diagnostic centers in Kano and Umuahia ($5.5 million each). LUTH Cancer Centre, Lagos ($11.5 million). NSIA also intends to build a new tertiary care hospital in Abuja,” he added.
Medical tourism in Nigeria is thriving, attracting both affluent and less privileged populations and resulting in an annual expenditure of over $1 billion, as stated by specific analysts. This trend has been shaped by various factors, such as insufficient healthcare infrastructure caused by economic problems, corruption, inadequate budget allocation to the healthcare sector, and a lack of faith in the country’s healthcare systems to handle intricate medical procedures.
It was noted that medical tourism in Nigeria is not exclusive to the wealthy. Even individuals who cannot afford such trips make significant efforts to raise funds through social media. Some people opt to seek medical treatment abroad rather than in Nigeria because they lack trust in the Nigerian healthcare system.
In addition, the financial burden often prevents patients from receiving sufficient healthcare monitoring in foreign hospitals. It is crucial to acknowledge that certain medical services sought by these medical tourists may be deemed unethical and illegal in their country of origin, which can result in additional complications following a procedure.
Specialists pressure the importance of Nigeria aspiring to be similar to countries like India, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Japan, the United States, Canada, Belgium, and Costa Rica, which have gained popularity as medical tourism destinations in recent times.
Cuba, Dubai, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, and various other nations have emerged as significant international contributors in this field of medical services. This emergence is a result of the estimation that the global medical tourism industry will reach $100 billion and is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 20–30%.
As a result, there are suggestions that advanced healthcare systems will be implemented. Regrettably, Nigerian politicians prioritize allocating their budget to their own and their family members’ treatment in foreign hospitals instead of investing in the public healthcare sector.
Although clinical tourism may not pose a risk, experts say the Nigerian government must address the medical, legal, and social issues associated with it. Furthermore, they should consider the financial burden placed on citizens who cannot access medical care in their home country.
Checks reveal that it is essential to acknowledge that clinical tourism has the potential to benefit the Nigerian economy through foreign exchange earnings, job creation, and investment in healthcare.
The growth of clinical tourism can also lead to improvements in the healthcare system and enhance the quality of care for both local and international patients.
The source adds that it can also facilitate the exchange of knowledge and medical practices between Nigerian healthcare professionals and their counterparts from other countries, resulting in improved health outcomes.
Mohammed recognized that Nigeria is prepared to advance medical tourism in the modern world due to advancements in clinical technology, disparities in healthcare regulations, global economic imbalances, and globalization.
He expressed the desire to retain immigrant doctors in Nigeria and emphasized the need for Nigerian medical facilities and staff to meet international standards.
Additionally, he said that appropriate compensation should be provided and that organizations like Duchess Worldwide play a crucial role in creating job opportunities and attracting medical tourists globally.
By Odimegwu Onwumere