As he ascended to power in that historic 2015 vote, President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party made a raft of sweeping promises to Nigerians. Stamping out corruption and winning a long-running war against the terror group, Boko Haram, were top of the agenda. According to a Mail & Guardian report so, too, was putting an end to medical tourism, specifically government-funded trips for public officials.
Medical tourism, as it is understood in Nigeria, is the act of government officials jetting abroad to receive medical care for undisclosed ailments even as the rest of the population relies on an underfunded and overworked public healthcare system.
The report says although his administration officials vowed to put an end to the practice, Buhari has been Nigeria’s most prominent medical tourist. He has visited the UK for at least five medical trips since becoming president, including an extended stay of more than five months in 2017.
But now, the report says, Nigeria’s healthcare system faces an uphill battle it is ill-equipped to deal with as the reality of COVID-19 bites. The country’s elite, so accustomed to quick jaunts to the UK, the US and elsewhere for their medical needs, are boxed in and reliant on a sector they ignored for years.
Even before Nigeria identified its first case of the new coronavirus in February, the state of its public healthcare facilities had been a cause of longstanding concern that preceded Buhari’s presidency. Top of the list of concerns is a shortage of doctors in a country of more than 180m people. There are only 75,000 registered doctors, according to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), the union for doctors and dentists. And to further complicate matters, the NMA says more than 40,000 of those registered doctors now work abroad.
Nigeria is a top exporter of medical talent to all over the world; its doctors are a permanent fixture in emergency rooms in the UK, the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia. In South Africa, there are an estimated 5,000 Nigerian doctors; in the UK, that figure is 7,500, according to figures from its General Medical Council.
The brain drain is driven by the poor conditions for medical professionals at home. The doctors left behind have to contend with low salaries that routinely go unpaid. Industrial strikes are a recurrent theme.
The healthcare system, bedevilled by years of neglect and underfunding, is now tasked with dealing with a pandemic that has overburdened even the most well-funded nations. With 238 cases and five deaths as of 7 April, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the coronavirus pandemic is the sole focus of the nation.
Like the rest of the world, Nigeria has shut its borders and enforced a lockdown in parts of the country, leaving its elite in a situation where they have no access to the medical trips abroad they have grown accustomed to. Several lawmakers and governors are in isolation and may have to rely on public hospitals should they contract the virus. Top tier private clinics may offer some succour, although even the most sophisticated private hospitals may not be able to cope because there aren’t enough specialists in the country.
The report says COVID-19 has been described as a leveller and perhaps for the first time ever, Nigerian elites may have to confront the daily realities faced by their compatriots.
[link url="https://mg.co.za/article/2020-04-07-covid-19-grounds-nigerias-medical-tourists/"]Full Mail & Guardian report[/link]