Evidently playing the ostrich, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Health, Osagie Ehanire, says the pursuit of medical tourism is a no-confidence vote on the full gamut of the nation’s health system.
Subdued murmurs ran through the hall, knowing glances were shared, while others stared stonily ahead as the implications of his comments on his principal, swept across.
Even though he tacitly dodged mentioning top government officials, including President Muhammadu Buhari, who have resorted to travelling abroad for medicals; and frustrated medical personnel who run abroad for greener pastures, not a few in Benin during the University of Benin Teaching Hospital’s 46th founder’s day and launching of an endowment fund for the hospital, voiced their concerns.
Healer, heal thyself of the malaise in Abuja, one volunteered
Ehanire disclosed that Nigeria loses more than $1 billion dollars yearly to medical services beyond her shores.
His words: “About a year ago, it was estimated that Nigeria loses about $1 billion every year to medical service sourced abroad. Outside medical tourism is effectively a declaration of no confidence in our health system, which we must endeavor to reverse.
“The long air travel involved for care in unfamiliar cultures not only severely strains the individual patients, it often improvises their families and hurt Nigeria’s economy. We must restore confidence in our health sector by improving all aspects of quality of care, cost efficiency and patient experience.
“Not all of our hospitals’ problems are due to lack of adequate equipment or expertise. I can attest that Nigerian doctors and nurses are technically competent, in fact, some hospitals patronized by our citizens in certain Asian countries turn out to be not as equipped or well-staffed as Nigerian teaching hospitals”.
As far as former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) is concerned, the upgrading and funding of Nigeria’s health institutions will make medical tourism unattractive.
On the endowment fund for the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), he said, “What we are celebrating today is the last, present and the future of this citadel of learning, the University of Benin Teaching Hospital and the possibilities that the future holds for the hospital.
“That is why the endowment fund being launched today becomes so relevant. It is a worth endeavor geared towards upgrading the institution and health services in the state and the country to a level capable of helping reversing the burden of medical tourism in Nigeria,” Gowon said.