South African health minister criticises medical tourism

South African health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, has criticized African leaders for seeking treatment overseas.

South African health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi has criticised African leaders for seeking treatment overseas while presiding over collapsing healthcare systems in their countries.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe regularly goes to the Far East for medical treatment while Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has been to the United Kingdom for cancer treatment twice in 2017.

They join a long list of African leaders that have sought treatment or have died abroad while seeking treatment at hospitals outside of Africa, all paid for by the taxpayer.

Buhari even admits that Nigeria spends US$1 billion of precious foreign annually on medical treatment abroad.

According to the East African Community (EAC), governments in the sub-region lose $150 million annually in seeking medical treatment overseas.

In recent years, heads of state, Levy Mwanawasa (Zambia), Lansana Conte (Guinea), Malam Bacai Sanha (Guinea Bissau) and Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia) died overseas during or after medical treatment.

Gabon First Lady, Edith Lucie Bongo, John Atta Mills (Ghana) and Nigeria’s Umaru Musa Yar’ Aduwa have dies soon after medical treatment abroad.

Motsoaledi is outraged at the trend: “I have made it very clear and I have never hidden it. I don’t like it. I believe we are the only continent where when the head of state is sick, they have to go and look for healthcare outside the continent. What does it say of us as Africa, why only us in this continent?

“When heads of state in America or Europe or the Far East are sick they are treated in their home country. Why are we the only continent that when our heads of states are sick they have to go elsewhere?”

He accuses African leaders of inheriting functioning health sectors and running them down through corruption and inept policies; “It is untenable. Healthcare systems in Africa must be improved such that we are in a position to treat our heads of state. Part of the reason why we suffered Ebola so much is that our healthcare systems are weak. These healthcare systems won’t be strong when our heads of state simply leave and go elsewhere because they won’t be able to see what will be happening at home. The day we wake up and say healthcare systems have improved is the day heads of state have confidence in their healthcare systems. Why leave the masses and go elsewhere. What about the masses here back home? It is grossly unacceptable.”

Motsoaledi practices what he preaches. In 2015, he was admitted to the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria suffering pneumonia. In 2013, he was also admitted for a surgical procedure at the same hospital.

The minister continues: “Healthcare leaders need to get treated where everybody else is treated. Don’t ever think going to a public hospital is going to an inferior institution; some of them are the best. Some of them do things that are out of this world.

Unsurprisingly, other African politicians have not defended themselves against his blistering criticism.