Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tales of Nigerians seeking medical treatment abroad

Tales of Nigerians seeking medical treatment abroad
BY VICTOR NKEREUWEM

The population of  Nigerians seeking Medicare outside the shore of this country is increasing at an alarming rate.  It is no longer an exclusive preserve of the elite, but a general practice among Nigerians, irrespective of class or status.

In the 1970s and 80s, when the practice begun, the destination then were developed countries like United States of America (USA), United Kingdom, France, Canada and Germany, among others.  But at present, the hand of the pendulum has swung towards India, Malaysia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, China and many more.  It will be an understatement to note that medical tourism as it is called, has become a major sector boosting the economy of many of these countries, while Nigeria is draining her foreign reserve.  This term has come to embrace all facets of consumers seeking treatment, improvement or change through wellness outside the coast of Nigeria.  Over 5,000 Nigerians travel to India and other countries monthly for medical treatment, according to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).  Of the said number, nothing less than 3,000 of them travel to India.  As a result of this statistics, Nigeria is said to be losing over $500m annually (N78 billion), with $260m going to India.  On the average, a traveller would spend between $20,000 and $40,000 on each medical trip. While the Indian High Commission disclosed that in 2012 alone, 47 percent of Nigerians that visited India for medical purposes amounted to 18, 00 people with billions of naira expended in scarce foreign exchange in the process.  
 
Another report has it that over 40,000 Nigerians obtained visas from Indian embassy that year alone.  Though government functionaries are largely responsible for this, especially since the return of civil rule in 1999, but now, even the poor and the common man now seek medical treatment abroad.  Their reasons might be borne out of getting quality treatment for life – threatening ailments like kidney and heart transplants, cancer, hole in the heart, cardiac failings and neuron-surgical treatments, among others that Nigeria medical system is incapable of treating.  

This is why number of ordinary Nigerians besieging media and religious houses, NGOs and humanitarian organizations, seeking financial assistance to enable them travel abroad for treatment is on the increase.  This is basically because of lack confidence in the health sector.  Unfortunately, the patients on many occasions had fallen victim of sharp practices in these countries. 
 
 This is different from challenges of those who died on arrival in the country or on their flights back home, due to complications arising from long hauls back home after surgery.  It is worrisome to note that cases of Nigerians allegedly detained in foreign country hospitals in on the increase due to their inability to settle their medical bills, yet Nigerians are still leaving the shores of the country on daily basis.  In Nigeria today, medical NGOs now act like tour operators who connect Nigerian clients to medical personnel abroad, they also confuse patients that their cases cannot be handled in the country, just because of commissions that would accrue to them.  it is only success stories we hear from returnees.  Sadly, many had died abroad which becomes double cost of bringing the corpse back home.  Sadly, the rule guiding medical practice in Nigeria is not helping the matter, because we don’t have medical information on what medical advantages Nigeria has.  
 
Lack of medical information has been the major problem, because most Nigerians are unaware that complicated issues can be handled within the country.  There is another issue of follow-up; it’s only few of those who get treated abroad that can afford to travel back to the country where they were treated for follow-up, because it is capital intensive.  There is need for re-orientation of the public that travelling abroad is never a cure to any disease and that government should put in place policies to encourage Nigerian medical professionals in Diaspora to come back home and contribute to growing the Nigerian medical sector.

All in all, government should empower the Nigerian medical sector to become a hub for medical tourism in Africa, as India is to other parts of the world.

Medical tourism can be a great foreign exchange earner for the Nigerian government and the medical doctors with an added advantage of best medical practices for Nigerian patients if we develop the Nigerian health sector.

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