No initiative on Nigeria’s health care delivery system is judged worthwhile these days unless it is dedicated to curtailing medical tourism.
There are no reliable figures on the volume and aggregate expenditure on the phenomenon, but the way some political officials and educational entrepreneurs talk, it is almost as if medical tourism is the bane of the nation’s health care delivery system, if not the entire economy.
Just before he left office, former Governor Godswill “Uncommon Transformation” Akpabio commissioned a hospital declared to be among the very best on the planet, complete with modular surgical theatres and a helipad for air ambulances ferrying in patients requiring immediate attention.
The complex would not only make it unnecessary for patients to go seek treatment in the UK, France, Germany, Indiana or Brazil, at the risk of having their vital organs harvested surreptitiously; it would also make the state capita, Uyo, a salubrious and more affordable destination for ECOWAS citizens, and people from all over the world seeking specialised medical treatment.
When Akpabio sprained an ankle in a freak accident shortly after commissioning the hospital, he was ferried, not to the hospital he had built to curtail medical tourism, but to the UK. I gather that he headed to the UK not because he likes medical tourism, but because world-class specialists expected to run the hospital were not yet “on ground”, as we say here. Apparently, it was taking forever to process their travel papers.
The specialists are yet to hit the ground, I am told, and the complex has been boarded up. Akpabio’s successor Governor Udom Emmanuel, it would seem, is not averse to medical tourism Or it may well be that he has been engrossed in transforming or re-transforming whatever Akpabio had left untransformed or only partially transformed.
If Governor Emmanuel is not averse to medical tourism, he is in excellent company. Those who patronise the Aso Rock Medical Centre would rather promote medical tourism than put a brake on it. That explains why the Centre could not even boast a single capillary syringe–a device they had in abundance in village dispensary when I was growing up–to say nothing of a functioning x-ray machine the last time First Lady Aisha Buhari checked.
Why equip the place when you can travel abroad every year, premier or business class, all expenses paid, plus generous spending money?
Despite the bad examples around, the appetite for curtailing medical tourism remains robust. At the recent opening of the Teaching Hospital of the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, no less a personality than the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, expressed great optimism that the facility would help reduce medical tourism.
But nowhere has that appetite been more robust than the National Assembly, which last week passed a unanimous resolution urging the Federal Government to establish, as a matter of urgency and necessity, a comprehensive University of Health Sciences in Oturkpo, in Benue State, the hometown of His Excellency the Distinguished Senator (Dr) David Bonaventure Aleichenu Mark.
The resolution was the high point of discussion and debate on a motion proposed by .Senator Mark. The discussion brought in the usual “stakeholders”: officials of the Federal Ministry of Health as well as the Federal Ministry of Education, plus professionals in the medical sciences. Lending intellectual muscle to the effort is the League of Idoma Professors, incorporating home and foreign-based scholars.
David Mark’s proposal has had a chequered history. As president of the Senate, Mark had urged the establishment of a medical university on former President Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Clutching at everything that might enhance his re-election chance, Jonathan had approved it. The approval may have been in principle, but Mark considered it a fait accompli.
The project, an example of the insidious patronage system that undergirded the Jonathan administration, never got off the ground. A new sheriff had come to town.
But give Mark high praise for following up and following through.
He took up the matter with the APC -led 8th National Assembly in November 2016, steamrolled it through three readings, culminating in the enthusiastic endorsement of the Senate. All that is required now to make it a law of the land is President Buhari’s assent. Some influential senators are already saying that the whole thing is a done deal.
If they had their way, the institution would be named David Mark University of Health Science and sited in his hometown, Oturkpo, in the Idoma heartland of Benue State. Mark had failed to deliver on his promise of Apa State, but the medical university would be some redemption.
Speaking to the bill, Mark said the university would be equipped to engage in specialized training of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical health practitioners “to cushion the current admission deficit” underscored by the fact that the traditional institutions could only take 3, 000 out of nearly 160, 000 who apply every year.
The need to curb medical tourism was, however, the theme that ran through the hearings on the proposal.
Senator Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano North) noted that if the bill won presidential assent, it would surely reduce the rate of medical tourism among the country’s elite.
“No one will have to fly to India or any country on medical ground if we have all the needed state-of-the-art facility on ground in our country,” he said. “Once this university takes off, we could even export our medical practitioners, which would boost our economy. As we all know, health they say is wealth.”
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, represented by Senator Olusola Adeyeye (APC, Osun Central) said the bill was timely, and that the establishment of the university would help mitigate the crisis in the health sector.
When established, the university would address the issues of medical tourism and its associated capital flights amounting to some N3 billion expended by Nigerians seeking medical attention abroad.
Throughout the proceedings, nobody asked why setting up a new medical university, rather than strengthening and equipping existing teaching hospitals and medical centres to world class, was the best answer to the nation’s health care crisis.
Nobody asked how this particular institution would be the answer to medical tourism when, even if established and equipped today, it would produce no doctors for the next five years at least. Just how many students can it accommodate anyway?
This whole idea of curbing medical tourism through setting up a specialised medical university: is this not a solution in search of a problem? Just how pervasive is medical tourism?
David Mark is to be commended on this initiative.
Nigeria has given him a great deal – “abandoned property” czar, military governor, Minister of Communications over presiding and the nation’s octopus telecommunications network NITEL, senator of the Federal Republic since 1999 and president of that body for two consecutive four-year terms, et, etc, and all the rights and privileges and compensation appertaining thereunto.
In the process, he has acquired a huge portfolio of assets, reported to include two golf courses abroad, liquid wealth salted away in European and Caribbean tax shelters (remember the Panama Papers), and goodness knows what else in Nigeria. By some accounts, he is an authentic billionaire.
And yet, he and his cohorts want the Nigerian taxpayer to build, equip and run a medical university named for him and situated in his hometown.
What does David Mark want to give back to a nation that has given him so much? What material contribution does he intend to make to an institution, the establishment of which he has pursued with singular vigour? What bequest does he want to make for having the proposed university named after him?
Eleswhere, those seeking this kind of honour–for great honour it is, not a right -pay handsomely for it.
Think on these things, Distinguished Senator.
About Article Author