Posted By Damjan DeNoble
Last week I went out to hot pot with my fiancee and two friends, sisters, from Nigeria, one of who happened to be volunteering as a medical staff in a Nigerian private clinic. Over dinner, they described a chaotic private health care industry where hospitals often had no water at night, facilities saved money by turning off lights in the hallways, and pharmacy coffers were often empty due to a thriving black market. None of this was particularly surprising until they mentioned how much treatments there could cost; these hospitals were charging prices comparable to that of world class facilities in Europe and the United States, hundreds and thousands of dollars for simple procedures.
She also told me how Nigerians were mostly poor due to rampant political corruption, which had resulted in untold billions of dollars ending up in Swiss bank accounts. From her account, I got the impression that this type of money laundering was still going on. This part of our conversation also put the high health care costs into perspective; corruption is a viral disease, after all.
So, it was interesting to find an article in This Day, a publication that covers African affairs, about how the Nigerian House of Representatives “decried the culture of affluent Nigerians seeking medical services overseas.”
The House of Representatives has decried the culture of affluent Nigerians seeking medical services overseas. It said the trend was not only detrimental to the improvement of healthcare services locally but a drain on the nation’s scarce resources at this period of global economic recession.
It has therefore tasked the Federal Ministry of Health to set in motion all necessary machineries that would enhance the full implementation of the 2009 budget in the health sector so as to elevate the quality of medical services available in the local health institutions and discourage what has now become medical tourism by the Nigerian elite.
Based on my conversation last week, and my past experience with African health care (I was in Botswana for two months in 2006 researching an ARV program there for what turned out to be an unfinished undergraduate thesis) I find two points of interest in this move by the Nigerian HoR.
1.) This is the first case of a country specifically decrying medical tourism as an economic threat to its own health industry. Many analysts have predicted that the global recession would precipitate in protectionist measures by many of the world’s developing and underdeveloped economies. Moreover, it has also been pointed out that affluent people in countries with large wealth gaps would also be targets of scorn and political backlash. The condemnation of Nigeria’s Elite by the Nigerian HoR is interesting in that it accomplishes both.
2.) If it wasn’t sad, it’d be funny how predictable a government of corrupt officials can be in times of economic crisis. Blaming ‘elites’ is not exactly a new tactic, is it? I just hope that a larger portion of the Nigerian people are able to see the utter absurdity of the government criticizing those Nigerians who can afford to escape the nightmarish, publicly administered and funded health care system of Nigeria for doing so: while at the same time, chastising them for not using a health care system, that purely through mistakes and irresponsibility of those in power is dangerous.
To top it off, the government makes little effort to hide the current, severe shortcomings of the health care system, instead opting for the ‘pie in the sky’ approach by paying lip service to the full implementation of the 2009 health care budget; “You must come back to Nigeria for health care, because by the end of 2009, there is a possibility that we will implement some of the most badly needed reforms that we have been promising for years.”
We’ll try to keep a running tally of developments involving further health industry protectionism.