14 February 2019

Nigeria Loses Over N144bn Yearly to Medical Tourism On Cancer

Every year Nigerians spend over $1,000,000,000 (N360 billion) on medical tourism with cancer care accounting for $400,000,0000 (N144 billion).

To reverse this trend the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) invested $10,000,000 (N3.6 billion) in establishing a cancer centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) to provide world-class radiotherapy and chemotherapy services to hundreds of thousands of Nigerian cancer patients.

With clinical services and operations set to commence fully in few weeks, oncologists are unanimous that the NSIA-LUTH centre is truly the best cancer centre in Sub Sahara Africa with three Linear accelerators, a high dose rate brachytherapy and chemotherapy suite.

President Muhammadu Buhari said the NSIA-LUTH advanced cancer treatment centre is in line with his administration' commitment towards improving the quality of healthcare for every Nigerian.

Buhari, who spoke over the weekend at the inauguration of the centre in Lagos, said his administration plans to replicate more of this cancer centres across the country in order to save the over 500 lives lost to cancer on a daily basis, as the three centres in Lagos, Kano and Abia is not enough to cater for the over eight million people with cancer.

The President said the government is aware that up to 40 per cent of funds spent by Nigerians on medical tourism is attributable to patients seeking treatment for cancer abroad, adding that despite having an increasing number of citizens suffering from cancer, the country, until now, had only two working radiotherapy machines.

This, he said, prompted the government to place focus on greater investment in the sector and also work to ensure increased access to safe, high quality care for every Nigerian by establishing facilities for the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

"We promised to effect policies that would remove debilitating constraints on the sector and create sustainable structures to strengthen our healthcare institutions for the benefit of the people. Today, we are gathered here to acknowledge the modest but laudable strides we have made in fulfilling that promise," he said.

He said there is increasing awareness that the health of a people affects their productivity and the nation's economic growth as a whole, noting, "A healthy nation is a wealthy nation."

The president maintained that the government, having recognised that progress in the health sector is handicapped by several bottlenecks, introduced programmes to alleviate the disease burden of Nigerians, including the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund targeted at ensuring access to primary healthcare care for eight million Nigerians and the ongoing to efforts to revitalize 10,000 Primary Health Care (PHC) facilities across the country.

Buhari said the Federal Government had created an enabling environment for institutions such as the NSIA to help fund high impact projects on time and on budget, thereby delivering immense value for our people.

"In the case of the Cancer Centre, we can measure this value in currency, but we prefer to measure the value in terms of its social impact, the number of lives of Nigerians that will be saved and positively affected as well as the impact of capacity building for our people.

"Working through the NSIA and LUTH we utilised a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model that unlocked investment capital to directly address this issue. Indeed, over the coming months, under our leadership, the NSIA will commission two Modern Medical Diagnostic Centres to be co-located in the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano State and the Federal Medical Centre Umuahia, Abia State, respectively, bringing additional investment to Nigeria's healthcare sector," he said.

He, however, added that the government will continue to push hard to raise awareness about cancer, educate the people and facilitate early diagnosis, noting that the model will be replicated across the country to bring quality, first-class healthcare services to as many Nigerians as the government can.

While commending the president for his commitment towards the health of citizens, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole noted that the facility could cater for no fewer than 100 patients everyday in order to bridge the large gap in infrastructural deficit the country is facing in cancer care.

He, however, urged the president to replicate more of this cancer centres across the country in order to save the over 500 lives lost to cancer on a daily basis, as the three centres in Lagos, Kano and Abia is not enough to cater for the over eight million people with cancer.

The Chief Medical Director, LUTH, Prof. Chris Bode, stated that the NSIA-LUTH Cancer Centre is a PPP as a means of bridging the infrastructural gaps in the public institutions, adding that through the world-class cancer centre, no Nigerian cancer patient needs to travel abroad again to receive treatment easily obtainable at home.

Also speaking, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of NSIA, Mr. Uche Orji, said the Centre is expected to raise the bar in the quality and standard of cancer treatment in Nigeria with outcomes that would be consistent with the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

He added that the centre would demonstrate the economic potential of healthcare investments in Nigeria and catalyze increased private sector participation.

Orji said the equipment in the centre include: One Vital Beam (High Energy) Linear Particle Accelerator, one Halcyon (Low Energy) Linear Particle Accelerator, one Brachytherapy system, one CT simulator and one Ultrasound machine and would provide internal and external radiotherapy services, which have previously been unavailable in the country.

He added that the centre would serve over 3,000 patients yearly, that is, it is expected to treat up to 100 patients daily as well as provide training for over 80 healthcare professionals which would reduce waiting times for cancer service treatment at LUTH.

Orji maintained that the Cancer Centre would also provide an additional source of income for LUTH and serve to reduce some of the leakage of foreign exchange resulting from patients seeking medical care abroad, which is estimated to be $1billion USD yearly.

"We have progressed our engagement with LUTH and have commenced discussions to potentially invest more in other areas of the oncology service such as inpatient care and surgery. We will also give serious consideration to collaborating with LUTH on other specialties in line with our healthcare strategy and we have already secured investor interests to collaborate with the NSIA in this expanded engagement," he said.

Giving more insight to the investment and operations, Orji said the PPP is executed as a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT, with the cancer centre built in a record time of nine month at a cost of US$11million, which once fully operational would be the largest outpatient cancer treatment in West Africa.

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