Nigeria: Healthcare and Health Tourism

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Nigeria needs no introduction-it is a Federal Constitutional Republic and it’s Federal Capital City is Abuja. Located in West Africa, it is the most populous country in the world(?) and listed among the “Next eleven” economies.

So where did it all go wrong with its healthcare delivery? I trained in Nigeria in the late 70/early eighties as a Registered Nurse/Midwife and worked in various hospitals, including in senior posts until 1990.

In those days, not only do you have medical equipment, instruments, medications and infrastructures to deliver optimum healthcare to your patients ,you look forward to going to work with enthusiasm, feeling valued.

As soon as you qualified as a Doctor or Nurse/allied healthcare, funds will be made available to purchase your own car and subsidized accommodations were often available for healthcare practitioners. Most Nigerians that trained abroad, were flocking back home, bringing innovation to healthcare which made it even more worthwhile to be a part of.

Then came the “Brain Drain”, the “why and how” is another topic entirely. Gradually  to Saudi Arabia on Sabbatical initially, and then for long spells. Most of us that were left couldn’t make sense of it at first; we were determined to make it work, surely things will get better. In desperation we would stand in for patients as Guarantors, so they could have treatment and or surgical procedure, when things are not available in the hospitals, we sometimes provide funds.

Gradually basic things like, water and electricity become a novelty. Private clinics, hospitals, churches and so on began to capitalize and with every situation as this; only certain group of people bears the brunch. This decline and consequent struggle to re-instate healthcare delivery in Nigeria to its former glory led to an upsurge in health tourism.

Health Tourism~ is not a new concept, it is dated to thousands of years, when the Greek pilgrims travelled from all over the Mediterranean to Epidaurus-the Sanctuary of the healing god-Asklepios.

It has always also been the trend in Nigeria, to go abroad, typically USA and UK to have their babies or recuperate after an illness or surgical procedures, rather than primarily as a necessity when we had adequate healthcare.

Things have since changed, mainly because of affordability due to high cost of healthcare in these countries. The focus have since changed to other countries like Singapore,South Africa and India.

Contributions by Nigerians to India’s health tourism boom (though no statistics available) can be said to be substantial.(Annual growth rate of 30%)Estimated $2b industry by 2015.

This in itself is not a bad thing, India must be doing something right; compliance with international quality standard and availability of latest technology in diagnosis and treatment in some of the hospitals- and of course Costs.

The bad news though, is that news spread by words of mouth most times about how wonderful this kind of health tourism is and people fall for it, often out of desperation and frustration without full knowledge of the whole story/picture. There are two categories of people in this situation; The Rich who can afford the Pre-assesment, diagnostic procedures,  treatment, post op therapies and follow up.

The other group-who have to raise funds including blackmailing friends and families if necessary, get loans anyhow, sell possessions and so on. They have no real knowledge of the total package, they are often contacted by agencies or middlemen recommended by someone else.Not enough time to ask relevant questions that will ensure they receive optimum care-how about post care infections or complications, when costs begin to soar over and above budget. Some return home against medical advice or on pretence that that things are fine, I am sure there is enough stories going round in Nigeria now.

Keynote; Before you pack your bags, do your homework, research different providers and make direct contact compare real testimonies

Which way forward?

Some of the reasons for healthcare tourism-Top quality hospitals and healthcare professionals are hard to find? Blend of top class medical expertise at attractive prices.This model is easy to replicate.

-Transferring so-such huge an-amount of money out of the country means we will never develop our local Healthcare Industry.

-Many of the services people travel for can easily be developed locally if people changed their psyche and encourage local franchises

-Nigerian specialists in diaspora are amongst the best in the world; they are keen to return, if Nigerians agree to patronise.

-World class hospitals are being developed in Nigeria, but Nigerians and Nigerian Government need to embrace and ensure their success.

The Health Minister Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, recently highlighted the fact that work is on-going to address these issues, saying ”The days are here for better healthcare in Nigeria” I am all the way with you on this one sir.

If I fall sick on holiday in Nigeria, will I change my flight and rush back? Noo, being involved in various transforming healthcare drives and training healthcare practitioners in Nigeria in the past few years~ I know I will be alright.

Till next time-Stay Healthy.

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