Nigerians have lost confidence in their country’s health care system and those who can afford it are boosting tourism in other countries by becoming medical tourists abroad, according to a report in BusinessDayOnline.
Of the 38,000 visas issued to Nigerians for travel to India in 2012, 18,000 were issued for medical tourism, the report said. Nigerians seeking medical attention in India spent $260 million there in 2012.
Unequal access to healthcare and a dearth of medical facilities in Nigeria indicate major problems in the country’s healthcare system, the report said.
Referring Nigerian patients to Indian health care facilities is common practice.
“Many more Nigerians are today turning to India’s good quality and cost effective healthcare services,” said Suresh Makhijani, Indian Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria. “Nigeria and India have come a long way in their diplomatic relations. So, we will continue to welcome Nigerians to India’s affordable and good quality healthcare delivery system, especially now that there is an increasing demand by Nigerians to visit India for medical attention.”
Low standard of patient care, absence of world-class hospitals and diagnostic centres and stunted growth of the healthcare system in Nigeria are responsible for massive medical tourism to India, said Mike Chukwu, CEO of Lagos-based private equity firm Assetswise Capital.
A poor pipeline for high skills, poor health value chain and undeveloped health insurance coverage system have led to weak demand for healthcare services in Nigeria, he added.
Medical equipment in some Nigerian hospitals is poorly maintened, Chukwu said at the 2013 annual general conference of the Nigerian Medical Association. Upgrades and diagnostic services are not readily within reach, raising questions of quality control, availability, timeliness and reliability.
“Ambulatory services are often not available or affordable,” Chukwu said. “There is an absence of internationally recognized certifications, a weak regulatory and supervisory framework, and weak framework for legal indemnities.
“There is the issue of paucity of equity funds (inappropriate loan structure, short tenor and high interest rate), poor economics of scale resulting in weak cost absorption and recovery, weak branding, poor governance structure, absence of professional management at strategic level, poor staffing in terms of number and specialties of doctors and other healthcare providers. These have resulted in the low standard of care in the country,” Chukwu said.
The approach to reversing the medical tourism drain out of Nigeria must be holistic, with the aim of developing private sector healthcare in line with the five-point agenda of the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank, Chukwu said.
“There is need to improve access to capital, develop and enforce quality standards, mobilize public and donor money to the private sector, modify local policies and regulations to foster the role of the private sector and foster risk-pooling programs (health insurance),” Chukwu said.
Unlocking the market potential for health services in Nigeria will create an enabling environment for the private sector to grow, potentially turning Nigeria itself into a destination for medical tourism, rather than a source of exodus, said Muhammad Ali Pate, Nigerian Minister of State for Health.
“Imagine if we created an enabling environment for local vaccine manufacturing, pharmaceutical companies, hospital chains, and diagnostic centers of repute. This would enable us better harness the resources and expertise of our medical diaspora,” Pate said. “The private health sector accounts for at least half of health care service provision and has the potential to expand access to health services, improve the quality of care, and the country’s gross domestic product.”
Pate promised to review fiscal policies including economic incentives, tax, foreign exchange, import tariffs that affect healthcare commodities, services and medical devices markets, in order to create more favorable economic incentives for doing business in Nigeria’s healthcare sector.
The country held the Nigerian Healthcare Infrastructure Investment and Finance Summit in June, seeking to advertise and promote long-term, medium-term and short-term opportunities for investment in Nigeria’s healthcare sector.
The program attempted to create an avenue for investment opportunities in Nigeria’s healthcare sector, showcasing opportunities for investors and financiers to invest, fund, manage or buy into the industry.
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