FACTS: Huge Losses Through Poor Healthcare System?
Two days ago, President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Dr. Osahon Enabule, put Nigeria’s annual loss through travelling abroad in search of better medical treatment at about $800 million. The figure is significantly higher than the $500 million said to have been spent by Nigerians for the same purpose two years ago. Apart from causing many untimely deaths, Nigeria’s deplorable healthcare system is also proving to be a great economy killer.
The mostly substandard and grossly inadequate medical facilities available in the country, coupled with the brain drain plague that continues to deplete the pool of experienced medical personnel ensures a lack of confidence in the health sector, with a consequent high rate of capital flight. Since health is wealth, many Nigerians in search of it prefer to travel abroad and stay alive rather than risk their lives in substandard Nigerian hospitals.
Thousands of Nigerians, including many political office holders travel to the United States, Germany, Britain, India and other foreign countries annually on medical trips, shelling out an average of between $20,000-$40,000 on each trip, according to NMA records. Such funds would have remained in the country if all was well in the health sector.
The poor confidence in Nigeria’s healthcare has led to poor investments in the sector since there is an established belief in the superiority of what obtains abroad, compared to what is available in the country. Undoubtedly, this attitude of Nigerians is quite justifiable due to poor facilities traditionally being the bane of healthcare delivery. The existing situation here is pathetic. The health sector, like every other sector, has suffered from years of systemic decay occasioned by lack of political commitment. Mismanagement of the lean resources usually earmarked for the sector has also worsened matters over the years.
Government must awaken to a new consciousness towards rebuilding the health sector beyond the pathetic joke we currently have. There must be a greater and more serious political commitment by all levels of government so that Nigeria can begin to tap into benefits of excellent healthcare provision through earnings reaped from within. Nothing stops the country from also serving as a haven for medical tourists in the mould of a country like India. Last year, India earned over $260 million from Nigerians that besieged the country seeking better medical care. India’s total projected earnings from medical tourism this year is between the range of $1 billion and $2 billion.
Countries which Nigerians fly to for treatment have invested hugely in their health sector over the years- through human and material input. This has yielded commensurate returns, which is continuously injected back to further improve their medical system through further research and boosting the already impressive facility and human capacity. In those countries, what obtains is in total contrast to what exists in Nigeria’s medical sector which cannot generate any significant return because of its low quality.
Government should get more serious and begin to address the decadence by putting laws restricting government officials and political office holders from seeking medical treatment abroad. Funds budgeted for the health sector must also be increased considerably. Such funds must then be closely monitored to ensure judicious spending. With the realisation that they must also subject themselves to what the local health sector provides, government officials would be more committed towards raising the standard beyond what presently obtains. Improved medical infrastructure through upgrading of existing poor facilities should make foreign medical trips less frequent or attractive to Nigerians.
Government should also provide health insurance schemes to Nigerians. And when such schemes have become increasingly practical and more prevalent beyond what is currently being touted as health schemes, even foreign interests will be attracted to invest in partnerships that ensure returns on investment.
State governments in particular should not consider health care provision a burden of the Federal government alone. They can seize the initiative of inviting renowned health service managers from developed countries to establish facilities locally through public-private partnerships.