Medical Tourism: Lagos state to spearhead efforts to address trend

L:R: Isah Usman, medical tour operator, Travel expert, Mr. Adefope, Lagos state commissioner for health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, organizer, Akwaaba, Mr. Ikechi Uko and other guests at the just concluded 18th Akwaaba African Travel Market in Lagos.

Many countries of the world generate huge revenues running into billions of dollars from other nationals seeking medical care.

This revenue generating industry tagged medical tourism if fully harnessed can also earn Nigeria revenue in foreign exchange and address the brain drain challenge in the health sector.

In this special report, aviation correspondent Nosa Aituamen takes a look at how much is lost annually and efforts being made to reduce this to the barest minimum by stakeholders in the sector.

Annual loss/brain drain

Many Nigerians travel to other countries to receive medical care for certain ailment maybe due to lack of facilities for the treatment of such ailment or specialists in the country.

For whatever reason, they just want to get better and live a normal life, and with the financial wherewithall, the decision is not forbidden.

According to the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, about $1.5 billion is spent annually by Nigerians to seek treatment outside the country.

Statistics by the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, also show that at least 14,191 health workers including doctors practice in the UK and US.

Reasons for the trip

Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Prof. Akin Abayomi listed the three top reasons Nigerians travel abroad for treatment.

”The top three are orthopaedics, cardiology and oncology.  Orthopaedics is the treatment of bones, cardiology is your heart and oncology is the treatment of cancer”.

What are the major drivers of medical tourism?

Mr. Usman Isah, a medical tour operator, listed these to include; availability, access, affordability of treatment, attitudes of medical personnel to patients among others.

” Availability, affordability, low success rate, lack of trust, acceptability and accessibility,” he said.

Opportunity for promoters

Some countries especially from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, North Africa do not miss out in the opportunity provided by the yearly Akwaaba African Travel Market in Lagos where they promote medical tourism as they showcase their health facilities.

Organizer of the market, Mr. Ikechi Uko, described medical tourism as a booming business and participants at the market.

” And for this year, we have many countries from outside wanting to participate, we have agents who are here to observe. Medical tourism is a booming part of tourism. Royal hospital dubai, American hospital, three hospitals of dubai are always here, we are happy the government of Turkiye is participating and we expect a lot more of them”.

Efforts to address the trends

The Lagos State Government says, it is taking the bull by the horn to make the state medical tourism hub of sub-Saharan Africa in partnership with the private sector.

Again, the Commissioner for health, Prof. Akin Abayomi assured  that over the next few years, the state will strengthen its health system and attempt to reverse the current trend of medical tourism in the country.

He stated that, plans have been set in motion to achieve this goal, which, according to him, include amongst others, the smart surgical hospital, cardio-renal centre, psychiatric hospital and rehab centre fitted with the latest and modern medical equipment.

”We are not going to be cutting people up any more, we are going to be operating on them using telescopes and you can come in, have your surgeries and you can leave the same day and that is the beauty of smart short stay surgical intervention as to one week recovery from a large cut in your chest or in your abdomen and patient patronizing these facilities without emptying their pickets”.

He stressed that this will help to reverse the brain drain challenge in Nigeria to brain gain.

Stakeholders worry

However, some stakeholders sought to know how the government intends to attract the manpower, address visa issues and its policy on health matters.

”Is there a plan for financial renumeration for these specialists that is Nigerians coming from abroad?, we still have issues of visas for most of our patients and is there any government policy that make sure that, civil servants, government officials are made to use these facilities?” They observed.

They called for an enabling environment for health care providers, better and attractive renumeration and to take serious the issues of medical negligence, malpractice, medication error and healthcare fraud.

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