By Francis Kokutse
Accra, Oct 26 (IANS) India’s trade relations with Nigeria might be improving, but the growing trend of Nigerians seeking medical treatment in India has become a cause of worry for the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), which says that the huge outflow of patients is a matter of concern.
“We are worried by the huge numbers of Nigerians who travel to India for medical tourism annually and want the government to help stem the tide,” NMA president Osahon Enabulele told IANS in a telephone interview from Lagos, the Nigerian capital.
“The statistics we have show that over 5,000 Nigerians are travelling to India annually to seek medical treatment and we want to look at how to reverse the trend,” Enabulele said.
The NMA estimates that Nigeria has been annually losing more than 78 billion naira ($500 million) on medical tourism, with half the sum going to India alone.
The NMA believes that each traveller spends between $20,000 and $40,000 per trip. “India thus earns over 40.94 billion naira ($260 million) from medical tourism from Nigeria alone,” he added.
Enabulele said that the NMA would not allow politicians to destroy the health system. “We are just drawing attention to what the country is losing, so that the government would walk the talk to improve healthcare in the country.”
He said the NMA believes that Nigeria too can compete in the global $20 billion-a-year medical tourism market and reverse the losses if it creates a healthcare system that “meets the expectations” of Nigerians and foreigners alike.
Enabulele said that the association was “convinced that if the president, vice president, senate president, speaker of the house of representatives, federal executive council members, governors, deputy governors and other holders of political office made it a point to stand in the same queue with ordinary Nigerians to seek medical care and conduct health checks in public hospitals in Nigeria, the confidence of ordinary Nigerians and foreigners in Nigeria’s healthcare system would be reignited.”
He said the NMA expected greater commitment by politicians to ensure that public office holders paid for their treatment if they decided to do so outside the country for conditions that could be treated locally. It also wanted to see an improvement in the public-private partnerships in the health sector, adding that “India’s health system, which now commands visitors, grew on the strength of such partnerships”.
Enabulele also said that the government could help the sector develop by offering tax exemptions for importing health equipment to “encourage investment in the sector”.
In addition, the NMA also wanted to see more funding for health so that it touches at least 15 percent of the budget. The NMA also sought that health rights be enshrined in the constitution so that there is universal coverage in healthcare.