Government plans to fix healthcare and bring in universal health insurance to stop outbound medical tourism - National Health Agenda (NHA), National Health Gazette (NHG) and the National Health Act.
The Federal Government is adopting a three-point strategic approach to stop outbound medical tourism from Nigeria. The plans are the National Health Agenda (NHA), National Health Gazette (NHG) and the National Health Act. Professor Isaac Adewole, minister of health, explains that effective implementation of the NHA, HG and the National Health Act will boost the country’s health sector. Together the three are part of a new focus in the ministry and government to stop medical tourism.
The ministry will focus on maximising optimal use of available resources, the provision of specialised care for Nigerians and changing the direction and destination of medical tourism.
According to the Ministry of Health over $1bn is being spent by Nigerians on medical tourism abroad annually. The Trade Union Congress agrees with the Nigerian government that it should discourage Nigerians from embarking on medical tourism to treat ailments that can effectively be handled by hospitals in Nigeria.
Adewole says, “We should be able to reduce medical tourism such that in five years’ time, many fewer Nigerians will go abroad for treatment. We will make our teaching hospitals work and do public -private partnerships that focus on derivable benefits. The aim is to achieve full universal health coverage. Within a short time we can deal with 60 to 70% of healthcare needs within Nigeria.”
He adds, "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. 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."
The government plans to roll out the universal health insurance soon but declines to give dates. The Nigerian Health Insurance Scheme is targeting at least 40 million Nigerians for the scheme in 2016. It is not mandatory for Nigerians to join but all Federal employees have been placed on the scheme.
Dr Ben Anyene of the Health Reform Foundation (HERFON) chastises government officials,” Government employees and officials use public funds to treat themselves abroad. This is a waste of resources, and the only way to curtail the menace is to make Nigeria’s health system and facilities functional. Medical tourism is simply government taking our own money to pay for people to treat themselves abroad. There is nothing wrong with people travelling 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. Most of us are against using our own money to pay for people in service, whether public or civil servants to go and treat themselves when medical care is readily available at home. 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.’’
The government is keen to crack down on corruption and sees the use of public money by public employees, officials, politicians- and their families- as a form of corruption.
Dr Patrick Dakum of the Institute of Human Virology of Nigeria explains why many people are referred abroad by medical professionals: ”There are certain diagnostics and treatment not available at home 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. Someone who urgently needs a kidney transplant, knows that we have only two centres that can handle kidney transplant. People are in a queue for chemotherapy, so a medical expert will advise the patient to seek help abroad to save their life. Medical tourism can only be curbed when the healthcare infrastructure, equipment and personnel, are well developed.”
Dr Rilwanu Mohammed of the FCT Primary Health Care Board, says that more than 210 primary healthcare centres exist in Abuja but only 30 % are actually operating, “The major reason why people prefer to go to private clinics and travel outside the country to seek proper medical attention is the availability and lower price of treatment. But travelling abroad for treatment affects the economy negatively. A negative attitude in Nigeria’s health system is another major cause why people travel outside the country for treatment, as they prefer to go abroad where they will be pampered and treated with respect and care.”