Nigeria loses over 28 billion United States dollars annually to medical tourism, and risks losing more this year, as over 23 percent of pregnant Nigerian women insist on having their children abroad, in spite of the stern warning by the Ministry of Health that babies of pregnant travellers to the United States and Latin America, risk contracting the deadly Zika fever.
The Medical Tourism Association research statistics, disclose that "23 percent of Nigeria's population has access to a combined buying power in excess of US28 billion dollars, mostly made up of professional and middle-class Nigerians whose desire to seek privileges such as better health care services or simply dual citizenship options for their child/children is on the rise", despite the warning.
As it implies, Birth tourists are women who travel out for the singular purpose of giving birth. Some circles crudely refer to some of these kids as 'anchor babies' because of their access to citizenship of other 'greener' countries under the jus soli.
Indications by the centre for immigration studies in Washington estimates that as many as 36,000 birth tourists go to the United States every year and further identifies that Nigerians represent a strong number of guests from Sub-Saharan Africa.
The figures are not unlikely to increase as statistics disclose that 23 percent of Nigeria's population has access to a combined buying power in excess of US28 billion dollars, mostly made up of professional and middle-class Nigerians whose desire to seek privileges such as better health care services or simply dual citizenship options for their child/children is on the rise.
Though not a new phenomenon among Nigerians, the trend has given rise to better planning and even consultancies which guide women on costs and procedures.
For Wunmi Ewebiyi, hers is a testimonial on one-child-birth service website where she narrates her delight with the support received and reveals expenditures of up to US 8,000 dollars for Caesarean Section birth. While, Naomi Anyanwu tells to LEADERSHIP Weekend that, "I've had two children in America. I spent roughly about US15,000 thousand dollars for my son and less than US10,000 when I had my daughter two years later."
For recently wed Mrs Chinonyerem Chimundiya, she expresses to LEADERSHIP Weekend that having struggled with the Nigerian system, she and her husband hope to offer a better opportunity for their children. "It seems Nigeria has always been on rocky ground. Being able to have steady employment means that we can afford to have our baby in America. It is unfortunate that now I have to contend with this Zika virus, but I have planned and saved for this. When I got married, my husband and I discussed this option of having our child overseas and we both agreed to guaranteeing our kids the option of a stable educational system, plus exposing them to unique climes, and even snow!"
At this time in the United states, though citing the risk of transmitting the virus through blood donations remained "extremely" low, groups like the American Red Cross have requested that blood donors who have travelled to Zika viral outbreak areas at least 28 days before donating in the United States. Similarly, the Pan American Health Organisation whilst investigating a case of the virus being transmitted sexually, has said more evidence was needed to confirm sexual contact as a means of Zika transmission after a report in Texas.
However, despite the ongoing International effort to investigate and understand how the virus evolves, to protect vulnerable groups like pregnant women, there are those who remain steadfast.
For the 29-year-old consultant, who alongside her husband, earn a combined monthly income of a little over 900,000 thousand naira and being six months pregnant, she is set with her plans to travel to the United States, irrespective of ongoing events. "I watch the news, and it's a risk that I will take because I want the best opportunity for my child, and if we can provide that by going overseas, then why not?" she queries.
It is a question that an increasing number of middle-income families seem to ponder, and possibly accounts for the growing number of Nigerian women who travel to countries like the United States of America to give birth.
Dr Chris Agboghoroma, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at the National Hospital Abuja insists that Although, the WHO recently declared Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, it stated that there was no justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika, encouraging instead personal measures to avoid mosquito bites as essential. "Information on ZiKa virus is still evolving.
For now, the main mode of transmission is mosquito bites and the main concern is infected pregnant women resulting in congenital malformation - microcephaly and neurological complications in the babies. Though the world is a global village because of ease of transportation, the vector for this infection- mosquito is not common in USA. While the risk of infection of the most vulnerable group - pregnant women is low in places were mosquito bites are unlikely including USA, same cannot be said of places including South America and Caribbean with mosquitoes."
Reinforcing this, Dr Ihekweazu urges that every woman that is planning to travel, that is of child bearing age must consider fully whether she needs to go to regions like South America at the Moment. "Women must take the normal precautions against getting bitten buy mosquitoes, but over and above what you would normally do; if you were using mosquitoes repellent sporadically, you would have to then use it all the time. They must inform themselves and educate themselves on the risks so that they can take informed decisions."
Recall however, that the Health Minister. Professor Isaac Oluwole, had earlier warned pregnant Nigerian women of the health risks of travelling abroad to have their babies, especially in places like Southern America, that is worst hit by the Zika fever.