Published On: Wed, Jul 27th, 2016

Medical tourism: Reaping the gains

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In the recent past, the nation, Nigeria, was heated by the news of President Muhammadu Buhari’s medical tourism to London for ear, nose, and throat (ENT) consultation and treatment. Many comments were made, most which I found amusing. For instance, a presenter of a radio programme in Jos said, “why should the president travel to London for an ear treatment when over four billion naira was budgeted for the Aso Rock Clinic, as in the 2016 Appropriation Bill?” Another person on another medium quoted the NMA President as saying, “President Muhammadu Buhari has done wrong for travelling to London for medical treatment.” He stated further, “the president made it public a few weeks ago that no public officer should travel abroad for medical treatment on government sponsorship.”

A question amongst others I asked myself is, “should Nigerians who can afford medical treatment abroad go on medical tourism?” I remember that a similar scenario had occurred in the area of education and I was made to understand that the President had said that his children attended schools abroad because he could afford it. If individuals are free to purchase health care overseas, should governments and other organisations purchase health care for their employees? Do Nigerians still need other necessities as clothes, vehicles, education, etc. from other countries?

“Medical tourism” has been defined as “the travel of people to another country for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment in that country.” In the Nigerian context, medical tourism might be interpreted to mean more than the definition above, but we can limit ourselves to the above definition for the sake of clarity. I have not known any country that has all it needs. Similarly, no person, family, community, organisation or association has all it needs for its survival. History has shown that some of the reasons for migration was “trade” and the search for a better life. I see medical tourism as a form of trade and the earlier Nigerian health care professionals and other citizens too see it as such, the better for us. India is one country that has embraced medical tourism in this sense. Germany, the United States, Singapore and many others have equally found their niche in the health care industry.

If the search for health care abroad (medical tourism) is banned, many sectors of the nation would be affected. These include the aviation industry, the financial sector, foreign affairs, commerce and industry, the health industry and the education sector. No man engages in trade with his enemies; likewise no nation engages in trade with a nation it is at war with. The Nigerian government can only send its officials and other citizens to countries it has good relationship with for their health care. Just look at the relationships and business engagements between USA and Cuba, North Korea and South Korea, Sudan and South Sudan, USA and Iraq, Britain and the other members of the European Union.

Could stakeholders in the health care industry wake up to the challenge of developing the industry to also attract foreign investors and clients too? We need to find our niche and specialise in it for a better competitive advantage. Nigerians can develop a niche in traditional medicine, bone-setting, treatment of infectious diseases, or even in invitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures . These areas of health care can earn Nigeria foreign exchange in billions of naira, if properly harnessed and medical tourism is developed and encouraged.

By Stephen Davou,

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Medical tourism: Reaping the gains