28 January 2016

Nigeria: Medical Tourism - FG Marshals National Health Agenda - Minister

The Federal Government says it is adopting a three-point strategic approach to stop medical tourism in the country.

The government listed the marshalled plans as the National Health Agenda (NHA), National Health Gazette (NHG) and the National Health Act.

Prof. Isaac Adewole, the Minister of Health, disclosed this on Thursday in Abuja while fielding questions from the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the effect of medical tourism on the country's economy.

Medical tourism is a form of health tourism that has to do with travelling of people to another country for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment in that country.

Traditionally, people would travel from less-developed countries to major medical centres in developed countries for medical treatment that was unavailable in their own communities.

Adewole explained that effective implementation of the NHA, HG and the National Health Act would boost the country's health sector.

The minister said these instruments had outlined and fashioned the new focus in the ministry and government resolve to stop medical tourism.

He said the ministry would now focus on maximising optimal use of available resources, the provision of specialised care for Nigerians and changing the direction and destination of medical tourism.

"I believe by the end of our first year, we should be able to reduce medical tourism such that in five years' time, less than 20 per cent of Nigerians will go abroad for treatment.

"We will make our teaching hospitals work and do Public Private Partnerships (PPP).

"The PPP will focus on derivable benefits of promoting inter and intra professional harmony.

"We (FG) will give Primary Health Care preference as a strategic platform for achieving Universal Health Coverage," he said.

According to him, if the government put its monies in the primary healthcare system, 60 to 70 per cent of the health needs of Nigerians will be taken care of.

He noted that Nigeria cannot achieve Universal Health Coverage without ability to proffer accurate diagnosis.

"Strong laboratory support is quiet crucial, our capacity will go beyond making diagnosis with respect to diseases.

"We will equip the hospitals and other public health facilities as well as re-orient the medical and health personnel to adopt positive work attitude to ensure quality and efficient healthcare delivery to our people.

"Besides, we will boost the capacity of our health workers to enable them render accurate diagnosis of diseases and sustain the training and retraining of staff.

"We have the mandate to provide leadership in the health sector, when we fully unveil these instruments, it will be obvious to Nigerians that this administration cares," said the minister.

Adewole assured that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would soon roll out the Universal Health Coverage, but declined to disclose the date.

According to him, when the Universal Health Coverage is rolled out many things that scare Nigerians in public health would fizzle out.

"We (government) will have primary health care for all the electoral wards in the country and part of the human resources component of primary health care we are building is to have village and community health workers.

"The village and community health workers would visit homes and liaise with head of households and mount massive public education.

"What we need to stay healthy is the massive health education," the minister explained.

Meanwhile, the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria says availability of quality medical laboratory services will curb medical tourism in the country.

The Registrar of the council, Prof. Anthony Emeribe, told NAN in Abuja that quality test result was one of the surest ways to curtail the menace of medical tourism.

Emeribe noted that many Nigerians paid huge sums of money in order to access quality healthcare.

He described laboratory test result as indexes required for proper medical diagnosis, adding that failure to produce quality result would amount to exercise in futility.

While saying that the medical personnel in Nigeria were efficient, the registrar however observed that they could not perform magic when the empirical data that enabled them make proper diagnosis was faulty.

"We have good doctors in the country but they cannot perform magic if the empirical data that enables them to make proper diagnosis is faulty.

"Indexes required for proper decisions for medical diagnosis is dependent on laboratory test results. So when you have shabby labs in teaching hospitals, federal medical centres and elsewhere what do you expect?

"You find situations where you go to five teaching hospitals or medical centres and you get five different results, how will the treatment be successful," he said.

The registrar said that in order to ensure quality healthcare services, all health facilities in the country, both medical centres and federal teaching hospitals, must key into quality management system.

According to him, this can be achieved by getting your policies, processes and procedures right as well as getting the right calibre of people and ensuring all instruments are well calibrated.

Dr Ben Anyene, Chairman Board of Trustees, Health Reform Foundation (HERFON), however said medical tourism is being used as a means employed by government agents to utilise public funds to treat themselves abroad.

He described the process as waste of resources, adding that the only way to curtail the menace was when the nation's health system and facilities are functional.

"Medical tourism is simply government taking our own money to pay for people to treat themselves abroad.

"There is nothing wrong for people to travel abroad to treat themselves, but if we can get our health facilities and system to work we should be able to treat ourselves and cut down external medical attention.

"The one most of us are against is using our own money to pay for people in service, whether public or civil servants to go and treat themselves up to the laughable things like malaria.

"This is all waste of resources, let us fix the system, if we do that things will work in this country then nobody will travel.

"Why should we go to Dubai or India to have treatment? Why can't we do it in Nigeria? We have Nigerians that can render these services," he said.

Similarly, some medical experts on Thursday called for urgent improvement of medical centres in the country to curb medical tourism.

They made the appeal in separate interviews with NAN in Abuja.

Dr Patrick Dakum, the Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Human Virology of Nigeria (IHVN), said that only few people travel outside the country for medical treatment, others were referred by some medical experts.

He said that there were certain diagnostics and treatments that are not available in the country that makes people want to travel out for better medical attention.

"Some people just want the very best for their health and they feel they can get that outside the country.

"For instance, someone who urgently needs a kidney transplant, knowing that we have less than two centres that can handle kidney transplant in the country.

"Also knowing that a lot of people will be on queue for chemotherapy, a good medical expert will advise such patient to seek help abroad to save the patient's life," he said.

The expert said that medical tourism can only be curbed when the healthcare infrastructure, including infrastructure, equipment and personnel, were well developed.

On his part, Dr Rilwanu Mohammed, the Executive Secretary, FCT Primary Health Care Board, said that more than 210 primary healthcare centres exist in Abuja.

However, Mohammed expressed regrets that only 30 per cent of the facilities are working.

He said that this was the major reason why people prefer to go to private clinics and travel outside the country to seek proper medical attention.

The executive secretary also noted that most times treatment was cheaper outside the country than in Nigeria.

Mohammed also noted that travelling abroad for treatment also affects the economy negatively.

He further said that negative attitude was another major cause why people travel outside the country for treatment, noting that they prefer to go abroad where they will be pampered and treated with respect and care.

He also said that most people travel out for personal gains, like acquiring citizenship for their children. (NAN)

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