Cut down medical tourism by politicians, physicians tell Tinubu

Sequel to President Bola Tinubu’s recent announcement to slash his entourage size by 60 per cent, senior medical practitioners in the country have stated that medical tourism, especially by political office holders must be reduced.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media, Ajuri Ngelale had last week told journalists that the President had approved “that anywhere he travels within this country he will no longer accept or allow huge security delegations to be following him from Abuja, which attracts massive bills concerning estacode and duty allowances.”

However, recent checks by The PUNCH on a civic tech platform that tracks and analyses the Federal Government’s spending, GovSpend, revealed that about N1.15bn was spent as provision for the presidential trips and other related expenses in the last six months.

Data from the Central Bank of Nigeria recently stated that $1.58bn was spent on health tourism, foreign education and other personal matters in the first six months of 2023.

The apex bank said that Nigerians spent $245.68m on overseas health-related issues while $896.09m was spent on foreign education and $434.63m on other personal foreign needs.

Amid these overseas trips, many manufacturers have constantly complained about the inability to access foreign exchange in the official market, leaving them at the mercy of patronising unofficial currency changers referred to as black market traders.

Poor health infrastructure and lack of confidence in the nation’s health sector are reasons for constant medical tourism among the elites and political officeholders.

Lending his voice to the issue, a retired Chief Consultant Surgeon of the General Hospital, Odan Lagos, Dr Joshua Adebusoye although commended the President’s decision, stated that cutting the cost of overseas travels and reduction of medical tourism political office holders must be included.

Adebusoye called for a return of the medical board’s screening of political office holders who wished to embark on medical treatment overseas, stating that it would “cut down frivolous overseas medical tourism.”

He said, “We heard the news of cutting down govt expenses on travel, which is good but they should add that of overseas. Before now, to embark on medical treatment abroad, a medical board of experts in the Ministry of Health must confirm that the treatment/investigation is not available anywhere in the country.

“Your Doctor’s report should be sent to the Board and you must present yourself for clinical examination by the Board.

“This is for all public service people and all who will need the Central Bank of Nigeria’s approved foreign exchange. This is the way to cut down on frivolous overseas medical tourism. I have served on this Board, so it is not new but has been abolished by the powerful government officials among another issue.”

On his part, the President of the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, Prof Aminu Mohammad, stated that the President’s decision would subsequently extend to cutting down on trips by political office holders.

He noted that this would go a long way in saving funds for the country, adding that such monies, if appropriately utilised would improve a lot of sectors in the country.

The MDCAN president added, “It is one thing to mention some of these policies and it is another thing to effect it. But I am sure they know why they mentioned it and that eyes are going to be on them to ensure that they implement it and the proceeds of the savings that would accrue from these should be wisely invested in improving the systems in Nigeria, especially the health sector.”

Mohammad further urged the government to curtail frivolous medical trips by public officeholders and politicians.

He added that this would ensure that the health sector systems were strengthened and effective.

Mohammad said, “If this is done, the proceeds can be invested in our hospitals to provide more effective services, especially the fact that we have highly rated healthcare personnel in Nigeria, which is why they are being sought after. If we empower them with state-of-the-art equipment, and environment and also strengthen the health system for training and retraining, it is going to go a long way in improving the health sector.

“If there are situations where people must have sought medical services within the country and the attending officers deem it fit that the individual requires healthcare services abroad, then they can give a recommendation or make a referral to those hospitals.

“It is disheartening that people would go to different countries that are not better than us and not up to our level of healthcare system and being attended to by those less qualified compared to Nigerian healthcare providers but they will be spending a lot of foreign exchange.”

He noted that with the increasing foreign exchange rate, it was high time that people patronised the improving healthcare system in Nigeria and accessed the quality services offered.

The don advocated that the savings from cutting the travel expenses of the President and medical tourism be utilised to establish a Healthcare Development Bank, just like the Bank of Industry with a single-digit interest.

“This will go a long way in giving people access to finance and funds that would make them put in state-of-the-art equipment in both government and private hospitals. That can lead to a reduction in the congestion that is seen in major hospitals, especially the Teaching Hospitals.

“It would go a long way in reducing the costs that people can have a high purchase of high ceiling equipment and afford placement that they can pay over time, have funds that they can expand and will bring a lot of healthcare professionals and open a multi-speciality group that would help in making the system more effective.

“Also, the investment of some of these funds into primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare systems in developing specific targeted high ceiling therapies where you can both develop the human resources and the equipment that are needed,” the MDCAN president said.

He called for a deliberate effort to develop private healthcare services to complement the government’s effort in the system.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *