Nigerians are among the world’s most prolific medical tourists. Tens of thousands of Nigerians troop abroad every year in search of the best, if not necessarily most affordable, medical treatment and health care services.
Medical tourism is thriving in the United States of America, Europe, the Middle East and Asian countries, particularly India, Thailand, Turkey and other destination countries. This is because of high patronage by Nigerians who expend in excess of US$1 billion every year.
Each year, a significant number of Nigerians travel to India and the UK for treatments ranging from cardiac surgeries, neurosurgeries, cosmetic surgeries, orthopedic surgeries, and renal transplant surgeries. The penchant of Nigerian leaders, past and present, to patronise foreign health institutions is legendary.
The failure of our health system is traceable to thriving foreign medical tourism by prominent Nigerians. It is responsible for the massive neglect and restiveness in the health sector. Nigeria is currently rated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the 187th out of 190 countries in the health index. That is unacceptable.
The rapid growth of foreign medical tourism in the country is traceable to poor service delivery, lengthy waiting times and the absence of specialist services, among other flaws. A lot of people are afraid to die unnecessarily because of mis-diagnosis which is so prevalent in Nigeria. Nigeria is not just suffering from brain drain; it is also beset by patient drain.
One of the most telling implications of foreign medical tourism is the incremental loss of confidence in our local health care system. Even though foreign medical tourism is a viable access to health care services that are not available in Nigeria, patients with medical conditions that are treatable in the country often still prefer to be referred abroad for better availability of services.
While medical tourism needs to be better regulated, there is a need for the health system operators to focus more on increasing the quality of services in order to improve public confidence. We need to commit more resources to the health sector and increase efforts at equipment and technology acquisition.
Charity begins at home. Nigeria is a big market and a potential goldmine for prospective indigenous and foreign investors in the health sector. It is far better to encourage the healthcare providers that our moneybags patronise abroad to set up well-equipped and staffed hospitals in Nigeria. That way, the situation can eventually be reversed from foreign medical tourism to making Nigeria a major destination for medical tourism.
It will bring back the vast numbers of Nigeria medical professionals who are currently rated as star performers, especially in Europe and America. Nigeria can become a notable destination for international health tourism. It only requires visionary policies and implementation.