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Reducing medical tourism

•Maintenance of hospitals is vital to treating Nigerians at home

As Nigeria struggles to come to grips with the troubling phenomenon of rampant medical tourism, stakeholders must realise that it cannot be resolved by simple fixes. This is why Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s recent remark that the emergence of the Afe Babalola University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH) will stem medical tourism falls short of the mark.

The vice-president, who was represented by the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, was speaking at the inauguration of the 400-bed facility built by Aare Afe Babalola, the founder of Afe Babalola University (ABUAD) in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State.

Correctly deploring the billions that had been spent on overseas medical treatment, the vice-president called upon other well-meaning Nigerians to initiate similar projects, and by so doing, partner government in its efforts to improve the fortunes of the country’s health sector.

The construction of ABUTH is a heart-warming development whose monumental significance is only further enhanced by the fact that it is a private initiative. Visitors have testified to the comprehensiveness and currency of its medical equipment, with the Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, declaring that its emergence had obviated the need for Nigerians to go abroad for medical procedures.

ABUTH is a welcome addition to the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH), and will definitely result in a marked improvement in healthcare delivery in the state and in the surrounding region.

However, ABUTH by itself cannot bring about the cessation of medical tourism, as desirable an objective as that would be. The phenomenon is a complicated one. It is caused by a variety of interlocking causes, including poor health facilities in Nigeria, the growing incidence of medical scandals, inadequate electricity supply, antiquated and non-functioning equipment, and a sometimes-unjustifiable lack of faith in the efficacy of indigenous medical professionals.

Reversing this lamentable situation requires a correspondingly comprehensive approach. The construction of new facilities such as ABUTH is definitely helpful, but is not adequate in and of itself. The recent closure of the N41 billion Ibom Specialist Hospital in Akwa Ibom State after its private managers terminated their contract with the state government is a clear demonstration that the building of hospitals must be accompanied by clear goals, measurable performances and workable contract arrangements.

The proper maintenance of healthcare facilities and equipment is also vital to stemming medical tourism. Nigeria has witnessed a succession of well-equipped hospitals launched with fanfare, only to suffer neglect and decline a few years later.

The National Hospital, Abuja, is perhaps the most obvious demonstration of this problem. Built to offer world-class health services to members of the political elite in the nation’s federal capital, it has become a shadow of itself, beset by staffing problems and insufficient equipment, including non-functioning MRI and Lineal Accelerator machines.

Recent revelations about the state of the Aso Rock Clinic provide even greater cause for concern. If the medical facility set up to cater for the health needs of the First Family lacks basic medicines and consumables, there can be little hope for conditions in less-influential hospitals.

There is also the vexed question of leadership by example. If public office-holders routinely resort to medical tourism, they lack the moral right to question other Nigerians when they do the same thing. There can be no greater demonstration of faith in indigenous healthcare than the use of local health facilities – a point powerfully made by the late South African President, Nelson Mandela, who never went abroad for medical treatment.

Nigeria spends between US $1 billion and $3 billion on medical tourism annually, with deleterious consequences for the economy, especially foreign exchange rates. If this situation is to change for the better, it will require better planning, increased competence and genuine patriotism.

The post Reducing medical tourism appeared first on The Nation Nigeria.

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This post was syndicated from The Nation Nigeria. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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