Public officials spent N2 billion on medical trips in 2014

Public officials travelling abroad for medical care in 2014 cost Nigeria N198.95 billion ($1 billion), says the Federal Ministry of Health. Most of the trips were to India.

The figure from the ministry emerged at a meeting to launch the National Health Act that the government hopes will restore confidence of those seeking health care in Nigeria and will eventually end medical tourism.

The Nigerian Medical Association says that Nigeria has been losing about N250bn annually to foreign medical tourism. NMA President, Dr. Kayode Obembe adds, “The amount Nigeria is losing annually on medical tourism is alarming. The presidential investigation into corruption should be extended to healthcare.”

Nigerians are often not satisfied with the quality of care they receive at home due to the quality of personnel and available equipment at health facilities and quality of drug they get.

The president of the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, Dr Obinna Ogbonna, wants to stop government’s sponsorship of medical trips abroad of public office holders- “Hard earned public funds should no longer be used to sponsor public office holders abroad each time they fall sick. We have the capabilities to solve most of the health challenges, but sometimes lack of state of the art equipment. If state paid medical tourism is stopped then funds can be used to adequately equip our hospitals for the benefit of us all.”

Ogbonna wants President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate a bill in the national assembly that would ban public servants from using public funds for foreign medical tourism- “It is worrying that a lot of money had been committed to foreign medical tourism for seeking for medical attention abroad and this has an adverse effect on the health development of Nigeria”.

Much of Nigeria’s outbound medical tourism is state funded for public officials and their families, often when local treatment is available. The tide of opinion is turning against this die to the heavy loss of foreign currency involved.