The recession in Nigeria has affected medical tourism in many ways, as doctors in private practice have expressed that many more people are staying home for health care.
The Advisor, Alliance Hospital, Dr Christopher Otabor, expressed delight over what he described as the drastic reduction in medical tourism in the country.
Otabor, who stated this in an interview with LEADERSHIP Friday, however, identified the present economic situation as a major cause since Nigerians are now forced to look for the best alternative healthcare due to financial constraint.
He said, "Medical tourism has reduced. I mean people going out of the country for medical care have reduced drastically largely because of the present economic situation. People now find it difficult to access medical tourism. So, the question in the lips of people now is, what is the best alternative? That is where people like us have found ourselves being busier now than before.
"Even the government offices are now looking for alternatives and people don't have the money. Businesses are not doing so well and they don't have free money to sponsor their medical trips abroad, so people have to look for where it can be done in Nigeria and we are seeing more of those cases."
A consultant neurosurgeon, Dr Biodun Ogungbo said, in his practice at the Brain and Spine Surgery Clinic in Abuja, he has seen more people consult for health issues than previously.
He said, "Many also confess that they had considered travel abroad as a first choice. The limiting step most say is the cost of care abroad and so the pressure is to find a credible alternative locally.
"In general, the health seeking behavior of Nigerians is poor and many present late. Sadly, it seems that this is worse now more than ever, as people try all sorts first, before coming to the hospital. Even those who can afford health care are presenting later than would be expected. They are making health less of a priority. In the same vein, many run away from the hospital and prefer to suffer or die when they consider the cost of care. Unfortunately, had they presented earlier, it might have been considerably cheaper.
"There are examples of patients with breast cancer when faced with the choice and cost of care, disappear into the bowels of a church. There are also, examples of politicians and others who run to the traditional bonesetter instead of being treated by an expert orthopedic surgeon.
Of course, this means health care practitioners need to consider these factors when pushing for change in reversing medical tourism."
Ogungbo said health care must be easily accessible and affordable for the ordinary Nigerian and furthermore, the quality of care must be such that health care practitioners show great empathy and connect with the people in a manner that demonstrate love and attention.
He said all the Nigerian patients want is good quality health care and they will stay to access that care locally so long as it is provided in a safe environment that almost guarantees that they will return home safely.
Meanwhile, Dr Otabor, has noted that the harsh economy somehow has benefitted other sectors of the country's economy, not just the health sector, including agriculture and local manufacturing industries.
On the reason Nigerians prefer to patronise foreign doctors, Otabor said that the Alliance Hospital now has such expertise, which he described as part of the reasons the hospital is now perceived by many Nigeria elites as the best alternative.
"Yes, we have a lot of expertise here. We do most of the things that they go to do abroad. What are the things that take people abroad? Orthopedics and trauma, joint replacement, maybe kidney issues, kidney transplant, cardiovascular issues, brain and spine issues; all those things we do and safely with good result.
"We have done over 100 joints replacement in a year, which is a lot. If you multiply that by $10,000, you will know how much they would have spent by a year. But the charges are not even as high here compared to over there," he explained.