President Muhammadu Buhari
Nigerians, just like people from other countries, were preoccupied with the brewing tension that the assassination of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) Commander, Qassim Soleimani, by the United States of America airstrike had ignited when their attention was drawn to something interesting back home. It was no other but President Muhammadu Buhari surprisingly complain at the rate which Nigerians patronise foreign hospitals for their health needs.
Buhari, who apparently, was troubled at how much Nigerians have suffered by going abroad for medical treatment, said the practice has become unbearable for the country and must stop now. Represented by the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, during the inauguration and handing over of completed projects to the management of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, the president said “Nigerians have suffered so much going abroad for medical treatment. This is not good for us and it must stop because we can’t afford it again.”
Definitely, no president or leader of any country would feel unmoved at the enormous of money lost to medical tourism on a yearly basis and its huge toll on the country’s health sector. What, however, sound confounding and has agitated the minds of Nigerians was, who is the president talking to?
That question was not unexpected when you consider that the president would definitely rank top on the list of those who patronise foreign hospitals for treatment. It would, expectedly, ignite confusion and leaves many Nigerians wondering what Buhari is trying to get at.
So often, the penchant of a few privileged Nigerians to rush overseas for medical treatment dominates public discussions. This is so knowing well the economic implications and how much damage it has caused to the country’s health sector.
Nevertheless, nothing really has changed. Rather, what we’ve seen is a sustained culture of medical tourism and even the president casting serious doubt in the quality and effectiveness of the country’s health system with his frequent medical treatments abroad. That, put to doubt, his promises to fix the country’s health sector.
A few years back, many Nigerians had counted on Buhari’s famed frugal style to limit or outrightly, bring to an end to the recurring practice where privileged Nigerians patronise foreign hospitals. They were so convinced that a president in Buhari mould would not allow what many considered to be one of the ‘wasteful’ habits of the ruling class and a strong impediment to the country’s health sector, to continue, but fix the country’s hospitals for the use of everyone.
But those expectations have not only been shattered, but Nigerians are also left to bear the anguish of a failed health infrastructure. Anytime Buhari or any of the ruling class has health issues, they easily fly abroad and leave millions of Nigerians without resources with the poor and degrading hospitals to handle their health conditions.
And, to say those who frequent hospitals abroad for their health needs have suffered so much, is the height of insensitivity to what many Nigerians are facing with the poor situation of medicare in the country. Except Buhari wants to be economical with the truth or keeping up with politician traits, those who are actually suffering from the preference of few to patronise foreign hospitals, are the weak and deprived Nigerians.
When you visit public hospitals in Nigeria, you’ll get a clearer picture of what people go through every day in their quest for the restoration of their health, and how they are most times, left to their faith, owing to poor infrastructures or lack of personnel. That is the case because those who should ensure public health are good enough to serve the people, abandoned it to patronise foreign hospitals.
Disturbing, however, is that Aso Villa clinic, which is purposely set up to take care of the President, Vice President and their families, as well as members of Staff of the Presidential Villa, have joined the appalling state of healthcare in the country. Despite billions voted to the clinic in the last five years, those who should use the facility ignores it for medicals abroad and cost Nigeria more resources.
Quite obvious that more than anyone, the president shares blame for the increasing preference of some privileged Nigerians to go abroad for their health needs. The truth is Buhari’s assessment on how the practice is not good for the country and should stop, however, he was wrong to assume that people who choose foreign hospitals, rather than those left with no choice but accept the deplorable state of hospitals at home, bear so much pain.
For so long, Nigeria’s health sector has suffered negligence and that has put the health need of million of deprived citizens in jeopardy. And, if Buhari thinks seeking foreign medicare is badly hurting Nigeria and needs to stop, he should lead by example. As the leader of the country, he should start showing trust in Nigerian hospitals by patronising them.
That should also extend to his family and top government functionaries so as to demonstrate to Nigerians that, indeed, his government is sincere on the need to end medical tourism. The time for lamentations or warnings is far over, but rather, what Nigerians want are actions that match pronouncements by the government. Otherwise, Nigerians would have nothing but a question; who is Buhari talking to?