Nigeria loses more than $500 million (N78 billion) on account of medical tourism annually, half of the entire loss to India alone, says the Nigeria Medical Association.
NMA says more than 5,000 Nigeria visit India and other countries on health trips every month.
Each traveller is thought to spend between $20,000 and $40,000 per trip.
“India earns over $260 million (N40.94 billion) from medical tourism from Nigeria alone,” the association lamented Tuesday, amidst calls to turn the tide by having political leaders stand on hospital queues to boost confidence in public health care.
India is a fast growing destination for money spent by Nigerians on health abroad.
More than half the money spent by Nigerian medical tourists is in an Indian hospital.
The country is projected to rake in up to $2 billion this year from a global medical tourism market valued at $20 billion a year.
But NMA says Nigeria can compete in the global $20 billion-a-year medical tourism market and reverse losses if Nigeria became a destination for medical tourism by having a health care system that “meets the satisfaction and expectations” of Nigerians and foreigners alike.
At a press briefing ahead of Physician’s week to focus on ageing, prescription medicine and medical tourism,
NMA president Dr Osahon Enabulele said the association was “convinced that if the President, Vice President, Senate President, House of Representatives Speaker, Federal Executive Council members, governors and deputy governors and other holders of political officer make it a point of duty to stand on 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 health care system will be reignited and bolstered.”
The association suggested greater political commitment to ensure political office holders should pay out of their own pocket if they wish to travel abroad for ailments that can be treated in Nigeria.
Strong commitment is also needed to strengthen public-private partnerships in the health sector, said Enabulele, adding that India’s health system which now commands visitors grew on the strength of such partnerships.
NMA also called for tax exemption on health equipment to “encourage investment in the sector”, for funding for health to reach at least 15% of budget at all tiers of government, and for health rights to be made justiceable in the constitution—guaranteeing universal coverage and encouraging Nigerians to utilise public health facilities.
By Judd-Leonard Okafor