The recommended ban on medical tourism
Recently, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) called on President Muhammadu Buhari to ban all public officers from seeking medical treatment abroad. Chairman of the Lagos Chapter of the NMA, Dr Tope Ojuo, who led the call, urged the president to issue directives to the heads of various agencies in the country to implement the policy.
The association argued that banning all public officers from seeking treatment abroad would help generate funds to equip hospitals and recover the billions of naira that Nigerian patients had paid over the years to develop other countries’ health care systems.
Worthy of note is that this argument of the NMA is not entirely new; many other Nigerians had expressed the same sentiment that a major reason our public hospitals have remained in doldrums and failing to provide quality medical care for Nigerians is because public officers, especially political officer holders, are allowed to travel abroad when in need of medical attention.
While this argument certainly has its merits, the challenge, however, lies in its simplistic outlook. The reality is that the maladies plaguing the Nigerian health sector run deep and merely banning public officers from travelling abroad for treatment will not prove to be the magic wand that will suddenly transform the troubled sector into a thriving haven.
What we have in the health sector is a reflection of a malignant systemic failure, which requires holistic appraisal and pragmatic remedy. There is no denying that the entire health care delivery system is comatose. Many health facilities and the services they render are best described as deplorable. From diagnostics to medical emergency to important surgical interventions, the decay is glaring for all to see. Many citizens have been maimed for life, while many more have died as a result of failures at various levels of health care delivery. This, we believe, is the main reason certain individuals who have the means, public officers inclusive, travel abroad for qualitative medical treatment.
A visit to some of the country’s teaching hospitals which are supposed to be citadels of health care excellence will attest to the sorry state of our health care system. When basic amenities like water and electricity are absent in a teaching hospital, how conducive can such an environment be to patients’ well-being, much less guaranteeing them quality care to meet their needs?
Patients with critical conditions that require prompt medical intervention are sometimes kept waiting unduly, in a bid to see consultants that are rarely available. The reasons for this delay range from shortage of manpower required to attend to the patients or unavailability of the equipment needed to deal with their health issues. How can any government reasonably ban someone with a precarious health condition from accessing an alternative to this appalling situation?
What the Buhari government should do is to tackle the rot in the health care sector decisively. The government must particularly look into the implementation of the National Health Act as most of the provisions in it when properly implemented can help solve the problems of health care delivery in the country.
It is our view that the Nigerian nation has a lot to do to restore the citizens’ confidence in our health institutions. It is after this is done that the government can contemplate restricting any Nigerian citizen from travelling abroad for medical treatment. It is only when our hospitals are in good condition with the necessary equipment, as well as qualified personnel who are adequate in number, humanitarian in attitude and averse to malingering and industrial actions, that Nigerians can have absolute trust in our health institutions.
We affirm that once we put our house in order, and our hospitals are able to provide prompt and qualitative health care to all Nigerians who need it, Nigerians will prefer to seek treatment at home rather than travelling abroad for medical treatment.