By Chijioke Okoronkwo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
No doubt, the issue of curbing medical tourism has featured prominently in national discourse over the years.
Estimates indicate that Nigeria loses between one billion dollars to two billion dollars annually in capital flight to medical tourism, while over 40,000 Nigerian doctors are practising in the Diaspora.
Admittedly, stakeholders agree that medical tourism has made objectionable inroads in Nigeria’s resources and also contributed to the near neglect and decrepit state of Nigeria’s healthcare system.
They acknowledge the fact that the problem with Nigeria’s healthcare sector is not lack of personnel with the requisite know-how but the political will to revamp and properly equip the sector.
To this end, efforts are being deployed to revive Nigeria’s healthcare system through efficient manpower and infrastructure, as notable Nigerians are beginning to demonstrate their belief in the capacity of Nigeria’s healthcare space.
Just recently, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo successfully underwent a leg surgery at the Duchess International Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos in spite having the appurtenance to seek medical attention in an ivy league facility abroad.
Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, had disclosed that the vice president was hospitalised for a surgical procedure on account of a recurrent pain in the leg possibly sustained from an injury while playing squash.
For the benefit of hindsight, the vice president, in 2021, inaugurated the Duchess International Hospital, a subsidiary of the Reddington Hospital Group.
The Duchess International is a state-of-the-art, purpose-built, fully ensuite 100-bed hospital facility; its services range from primary, secondary to tertiary healthcare services across a wide range of specialist and subspecialty areas.
Ever since Osinbajo’s successful surgery in a local health facility, insightful Nigerians have been applauding the vice president for exhibiting a high level of patriotism and belief in the Nigerian project.
They, including President Muhammadu Buhari, wished him speedy recovery.
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), as a major player in the health industry, implored other political office holders in the country to emulate the vice president in order to end medical tourism.
Dr Uche Ojinmah, NMA’s National President, while wishing Osinbajo a speedy recovery, commended him for demonstrating confidence in Nigerian doctors and the healthcare system.
Ojinmah added that it was time to fix the nation’s fragile healthcare system to the benefit of the common man and the economy.
He added that the association was certain that Osinbajo was impressed.
“We wish to thank God for seeing our vice president through surgery.
“All Nigerian doctors are praying for his quick and complete recovery,” he said.
More so, tweets have hailed vice president’s openness about his health status and his choice of medical care in a local hospital.
They commend the vice president’s choice of a local hospital for a medical procedure and wished him quick recovery.
Ken Osemebor on twitter reacted, “this is a new one, updating the citizens about the well-being of the vice president, one day we will do better; extend our best wishes to the vice president.”
Kemisola Adekunle, in her tweet, said “I am sure it is not too serious.
“But kudos to the vice president for trusting in his doctors here at home and not having to fly abroad for treatment.
“It shows his believe in Nigeria medical doctors.”
On his part, Tamuno Tonye, wished, “quick recovery to the senior advocate of masses who believes in everything in Nigeria, owned by Nigerians and for Nigerians.
“Our medical services have proven to be world class for all citizens irrespective of their societal class.”
Right activists, Aisha Yesufu and Henry Sheild were also not left out as they prayed and wished the vice president speedy recovery.
Mr Shield wrote, “may the Lord Almighty heal you and hold the hands of the medical staff all through the procedure.
“You will come out stronger and healthier in Jesus name. You are in our prayers.”
Yesufu prayed “may God heal you completely.”
Worthy of note, the Chief Executive Officer of the hospital, Dr Adetokunbo Shitta-Bey, while giving an update of Osinbajo’s recovery, applauded the vice president for patronising a local hospital rather than embarking on medical tourism for a service that was available locally.
On affordability of Duchess International Hospital and quality of service, Shitta-Bey said that services at the facility were not expensive and not out of the reach of many Nigerians.
He said that the affordability of the facility was among the reasons the vice president chose to have a medical procedure here in Nigeria.
“Just speaking in terms of access to affordable world class health care, we are giving a lot of attention to the very highly emotive subject of access and taking deliberate steps to bring down the barriers that prevent people accessing these essential services.
“I think this is largely what informed the vice president’s decision to have his procedure here at the Duchess International Hospital.
“The vice president is a national treasure and it is an honour to have him in our hospital.
“He receives the same level of safe, healthcare anyone who would come into the hospital would receive, of course, with additional considerations for security because it is a matter of national interest and security.”
The chief executive officer spoke further about what the hospital was doing to ensure access to affordable healthcare and reverse the trend in medical tourism.
“For example, to register at the Duchess International Hospital and see a doctor is not more than N5, 000.
“We have a consultant-led service at the Duchess International Hospital.
“It is very important that the decisions that are made within the first few minutes are precise decisions.
“You are far more likely to see a specialist consultant within the first 10 minutes in the hospital unlike in other hospitals in Lagos, and so all of that contribute to the safety and security that patients have when they come in.
“It is also very important for us that the entire community is able to access the service.
“We are also focused on bringing our boys and girls back home; all of these contribute to the safe and secure environment that enable people come and have the care that they need.”
He also spoke on taking deliberate steps to check capital flight as a result of medical tourism.
According to him, it is really important to have a range of services that will keep money and expertise within this country.
“It is precisely what the Duchess International Hospital represents.
“We need not one Duchess Hospital, this country needs about 50 Duchess Hospitals to improve access, bring down the cost of health care, access to essential services, and having specialists, front to end the services.
“Having 24-hour emergency and critical care, having the right governance arrangement both clinically and administratively based on all the things that contribute to a robust environment,’’ he said.
On his part, the Medical Director of the hospital, Dr Adedoyin Dosunmu-Ogunbi said Osinbajo was making steady progress.
“He is walking already, taking a few steps. You can imagine after a major surgery in his right femur bone; that is very encouraging as he continues to recover.”
The medical director called for urgent reforms to revitalise healthcare delivery in Nigeria, noting that the sector in Nigeria was highly under resourced.
“All public officials in Nigeria should have their healthcare in Nigeria.
“If the treatment is available in Nigeria, then they should get it in Nigeria.
“And in many cases, it is available, but if we do not have such services available in Nigeria then they can get it elsewhere,” he said.
Unarguably, if the elite patronised local health facilities, billions would be saved in capital flight and the ripple effect would be a sustained upgrading and retooling of Nigeria’s health sector.