According to the United Nations report, Nigeria health system is in an inconsolably 187th out of 191 nations. Some studies also revealed that 23% of the global malaria burden came from Nigeria, and four other African countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya. Ironically, Malaria is still one of the world's biggest killers, claiming about 655,000 lives yearly. Economically, malaria robs Africa of more than $12 billion productivity yearly and accounts for about 40% of health expenditure. President Jonathan's half brother, Chief Meni Innocent Jonathan, died of acute malaria and typhoid, on November 20, 2012 at the tender age of 45.
Regrettably, most Nigerians die prematurely in their thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties; resulting from heart attack or cardiac arrest precipitated by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking, heart problem, among others.
Unfortunately, Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of about 545 per 100,000; while infant and childhood death rates are 25 and 30 per cent. Ironically, more than 60,000 women still die in pregnancy-related complications annually.
Nigeria reported prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV of less than 25 percent, thus joining six other sub-Saharan Africa countries; Angola, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
This is enough statistics for the Federal Government to pump funds into research in solving health challenges in Nigeria. Both Federal Ministry of Health, with the full support of the Nigerian Medical and Dental Association, and the Nigerian Labor Unions should collaborate their efforts in improving health services in Nigeria rather than chasing the wild goose in the wilderness for banning Nigeria public servants from travelling abroad for medical attention.
On Friday, April 13, 2012 the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu announced that the Federal Government of Nigeria is to ban public officials from travelling abroad for medical treatment. I read the piece with disdain. In less than a day, Saturday, April 14, 2012 of the announcement, Sen. David Mark, Senate President, travelled out to Israel for medical attention.
The Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria also promised to sponsor a bill at the National Assembly to stop frequent overseas medical trips by public officials. Sometimes the Nigerian Labor Congress seems to always off-track in setting its priorities right. What happens to the health sector services if and when the Bill is passed into law? NLC should heed to Stephen Covey's advice that "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."
Nigerians are not getting adequate health care services from their government; 'suffering and smiling' under poor governance. Most of Nigeria medical centres remain a monstrosity with archaic equipment, derisory basic drugs, and over-stretched personnel. Hapless patients continue to die needlessly because of government neglect of healthcare. The government characteristically maw-maw its willingness to upgrade the health system, but the high statistics of mortalities in Nigeria hospitals, especially resulting from minor illnesses, is proofing that nothing concrete is being done to swivel the situation.
The government has no moral right to prevent efforts by its citizens in saving human life outside its shores since it does not have all that are needed at home. Disappointedly the Nigerian Government lack foresight, and has demonstrated its inability to provide excellent medical services or basic clinical consultation for Nigerians.
Restricting the government officials from travelling abroad for medical treatment is not something that Government should waste the tax payers' money on. What happens with the public official like the arrogant Taraba State Governor that flew his own private jet and crashed it with some of his aides in the accident? Is it right to keep him in Nigeria or any of his aides involved in the plane crash to be part of the statistics, when their lives can be saved somewhere else.
In addition, someone who has lived substantial number of years outside the country, where he worked, retired and where all his medical records are archived with his regular Physicians, and it happens he works for any Government agency, to be denied seeing his Physician abroad. That would be tantamount to wanting to end his good health life; however, not at the expense of the Government or public funds.
Supposing the Nigerian Government Printing Press machine chopped off two arms of an employee, the employer would have to make an immediate medical intervention to restore the two arms. A wild animal attacked a zoo worker, tattered the face, and left the victim in the pool of blood. The plastic surgeons have to work, to get all the torn flesh into a point when the face would look almost like the normal face despite all the scars. A PHCN employee felt from the top of a crane and metals pierced through his skin. How to get the metal off his body would require some specialists, otherwise we may loose the patients before any meaningful help could come.
The Government of the day, 2013, does not have the facilities that could handle all the needed services for every single medical issue in the country without transferring them to facilities that have the needed specialists to handle them. There is no single Hospital that harbors every needed specialist anywhere in the world. Those that have the means should not be denied access to treatments anywhere of their choice in the world.
Patronizing the Medical services in Nigeria will occur when the Government adequately equip the Medical Centers; well managed by the Professionals, and raises its services to rank among the best Medical Facilities around the world. Competing for services is what the government and its agents, the NMA, and the Nigeria Labor Congress should work on.
Quite a number of Nigerians have engaged in Medical tourism in the recent past. Among others, the retired General Muhammadu Buhari, former Head of State, in March 2012 went abroad for medical treatment. Sullivan Chime, Enugu State Governor, has been undergoing treatment for heart related illness in a London hospital since September 2012. Cross Rivers State Governor, Liyel Imoke, is somewhere in Ellicott City, Maryland, United States of America, receiving treatment for undisclosed ailment. Taraba State Governor Danbaba Dan Fulani Suntai is receiving treatment in Germany. Patience Jonathan is still going back and forth in the hands of foreign Doctors as opposed to the Nigerian Doctors to take care of her illness.
In recent times, 'medical tourism', as a new trend in the healthcare sector, is widely used to describe the practice of people travelling to other countries to receive medical attention. This has gained popularity globally with countries like the United States, Germany, Britain, India, Egypt, United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia, capitalising on this new trend to generate wealth and income for their respective countries. The current survey indicates significant growth in the medical tourism industry at $20 billion market and expected to reach $100 billion by the end of 2012. Specifically the exact statistics for medical tourism may seem difficult to confirm even as the estimations indicate a strong potential for medical tourism not only at the moment but in the future. Nonetheless, Nigeria loses N30bn annually to foreign medical treatments.
Citizens from different nations, including USA, seek medical attention in countries of their choice. There is a Health Tourist center in India where Americans go for treatment at a lower cost. In as much as citizens can afford the cost the government does not have to be an obstacle in improving their health status. Mohammed Ali went round the globe seeking help for his Parkinson illness. Late Coretta King did similar thing before she gave up the ghost in Mexico. Yar'Adua did and died in Saudi Arabia; Ojukwu did and died in London. Stella Obasanjo underwent medical treatment in 2005 and did not survive.
The matter of punishing a Medical Doctor for referring patients abroad for treatment is not professionally, ethically, and humanly right and advisable, since such services cannot be met in Nigeria. Nigerian Doctors are very good to no fault of their own if they have the right equipment, adequate infrastructure, and conducive environment to work.
In 2009, there was a patient shot on the hips and treated at Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital, OOUTH, Shagamu, Nigeria, the time I was the Chairman of its Management Board. The family insisted of his evacuation to India for treatment, even before the Medical Team started working on him. The OOUTH Medical Team performed brilliantly on the patient before yielding to the family's pressure. When eventually the patient was taken to London Hospital, the team got credits for an excellent job done on the patient, that the only thing needed by the patient was therapy.
Kogi State Governor corroborated the competency of Nigerian medical staff if they have what they need to do their job. This came after he had received very good services from the Cedarcrest Orthopaedic Hospital, Abuja, in December 2012. He however advised that it all depends on the individual medical needs.
Nigerians Health workers are among the best in other parts of the world. Some Nigerian professionals emigrated outside the country for the frustration encountered at the hands of the inept Nigerian leaders and the search for knowledge. Nigerians are among the best in health industry in the world. They emigrate to where they have access to adequate equipment to do their job. In 2003, Bill Clinton remarked that, if Nigerians should withdraw their 33% of the American Medical services; the health care services in the United States would collapse. Seventy-seven percent of members of the Association of Black Doctors in the United States of America (US) are Nigerians.
Dr. Olufunmilayo Falusi Olopade, a Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine & Human Genetics, is an authority on cancer risk assessment, prevention, and individualized treatment based on risk factors and quality of life. Dr. Olopade has a special interest in women of African descent, who are at higher risk for the more aggressive Breast Cancer and more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age. She is a Director of Cancer Risk Clinic, Associate Dean for Global Health, and Director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at the University of Chicago. She designs an individualized prevention plan that may include periodic screening, preventative drugs, or other options for risk reduction, especially addressing topics related to pregnancy, fertility, lifestyle, and employment. Her current research interests include identifying the source of ER-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease, which is resistant to hormone therapy. In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed her as a member of National Cancer Advisory Board.
Dr. Folakemi Odedina works on the development of a predictive behavioral model of Prostate Cancer disparities among Black men and the implementation of cost-effective, community-based intervention programs in minority and underserved communities. Odedina's research program focuses on the predictors of health disparities and cost-effective, community-based behavioral interventions to improve the health of Black men. She has directed more than 20 research projects, including: the Florida A&M University Center for Minority Prostate Cancer Training and Research (CMPC), which comprises of a trans-disciplinary team of clinical, behavioral, and basic scientists; and a landmark Department of Defense prostate cancer research project which accrued over 3,000 Black men in Florida. Her initiatives include the Men's Health Initiative and the Black Men's Health Consortium in Florida.
Dr. Nelson Mobolanle Oyesiku, is a product of University of Ibadan and one of the best Neurosurgeons at the neurosurgical faculty at Emory University, Atlanta Georgia. Dr. Oyesiku's clinical and research focus is the surgical treatment and molecular biology of pituitary tumor. He is a Professor, Departments of Neurosurgery and Medicine (Endocrinology), Director, Molecular Neurosurgery and Biotechnology Laboratory Program, Director, Neurosurgery Residency Program. He is currently (2013) the Chairman of the American Board of Neurological Surgery.
In 2012, Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue, received two US government research grants totalling $1 million, to study mother to child HIV Transmission an aspect of primary care deliver to patients living with HIV/AIDS. Dr. Ezeanolue is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and the Director of Pediatric Research, University of Nevada School of Medicine (UNSOM), Las Vegas.
The Castle Connolly, a prominent US rating organization for the medical profession, named Dr. Oluyemi Badero among the top interventional Cardiologists in the United States. He was also honored on the floor of the United States House of Representatives in 2012 as the topmost interventional cardiologist, based in Brooklyn, New York. The New York Congressman Ed Towns sated, "Mr. Speaker, Dr. Oluyemi O. Badero has reached the highest levels of medicine in our country, all the way from Nigeria and he has used his expertise to improve the lives of his community." The Network Journal Magazine noted that Badero "deals with matters of the heart by getting to the heart of the matter." He also won the Humanitarian Award by the New York State Legislature, Assemblywoman Diane Gordon in 2012 for "outstanding and dedicated service toward all mankind."
Another quiet, very effective peace loving medical professional within my reach in Atlanta is Dr. Jonathan Nwiloh, a cardiovascular disease specialist who concentrates in Cardiovascular Disease. Dr. Nwiloh a Thoracic Surgeon is licensed to practice in Michigan, North Carolina, and Georgia.
What Nigerian government should do is to collaborate with some of Nigerian specialists around the world in improving the medical services in Nigeria. According to Dr. Odedina, the research direction has shifted from Black within United States to Africa continent where solutions could be found on some specific diseases affecting blacks.
These High Class Nigerian Specialists could make Nigeria another Medical Tourist Center, provided the Federal Government cooperate and work with them. They are willing to assist the Health sector in the country as some of them have volunteered their time for my numerous free Medical Mission to Nigeria in the past, and they are still willing to jump to the plane at our invitation.
The Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu would have to go beyond laying down a plan to ban medical trip by public officials, for him to address many of the nagging health-care issues, including health insurance. He should ensure that an average Nigerian have access to the Nigeria Health Insurance Scheme, to handle individual health care needs.
At the local level, making lemonade out of lemon for Dr. Oluyombo Awojobi from Eruwa using local materials in his clinic where he performs over 10 surgeries will be a way of encouraging local patronage of medical services in Nigeria.
The Nigeria Labor Congress should insist on good governance that provides avoidable healthcare with modern equipment to treat common malaria in the country. A healthy mind is the foundation for youthful progressive thoughts.
No Government should stop anyone from seeking better health services for their life anywhere in the world, for those that can afford it. The ailing Nollywood actor, Ngozi Nwosu, was able to raise her needed N6m to jet out to Germany for medical attention. Adequate collaboration with Higher Institutions of learning in Nigeria on research, in form of grants, will go a long way in making health services available to the community.
The government should pay Health workers' salaries on time; get the right individuals to manage Hospitals based on merit, not politics; provide needed infrastructure to boost the morale of the employees with some good incentives. Politics must be discouraged in the public medical centers across the country. Such will encourage private individuals to effectively and efficiently partner with the government in some services within the hospitals.
Nigerians need HOPE in health services to live beyond the 52 years life expectancy in Nigeria today 2013, the lowest in West Africa.
- Femi Ajayi is a Professor of Policy, Management & Conflict Resolution; Head, Political Science and Public Administration Department, Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State