Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is facing a growing challenge of providing adequate and affordable health care services to its citizens. According to recent reports, the country’s medical tourism spending has risen by over 40% in the past year, reaching an estimated $1.5 billion.
Medical tourism is the practice of travelling to another country for medical treatment, usually for procedures that are either unavailable, unaffordable, or of low quality in one’s own country. Nigeria has been a major source of medical tourists in Africa, with many Nigerians seeking health care services in countries such as India, Turkey, Dubai, South Africa, and the UK.
Some of the reasons for this trend include the poor state of the Nigerian health care system, which suffers from inadequate infrastructure, equipment, drugs, personnel, and funding. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria ranks 187th out of 191 countries in terms of health system performance. The country also has one of the lowest ratios of doctors to patients in the world, with about four doctors per 10,000 people.
Another factor that drives medical tourism is the lack of trust and confidence in the quality and safety of health care services in Nigeria. Many Nigerians perceive foreign health care providers as more competent, professional, and ethical than their local counterparts. Moreover, some Nigerians prefer to travel abroad for privacy and confidentiality reasons, especially for sensitive or stigmatized conditions such as infertility, cosmetic surgery, or mental health issues.
The impact of medical tourism on Nigeria’s economy and health sector is significant and multifaceted. On one hand, medical tourism represents a huge loss of revenue and foreign exchange for the country, as well as a drain of human capital and skills. On the other hand, medical tourism also creates opportunities for investment, innovation, and collaboration in the health sector, as well as a demand for improved quality and standards of health care services in Nigeria.
To address the challenge of medical tourism, the Nigerian government and stakeholders have taken various steps to improve the health care system and reduce the outflow of patients. Some of these steps include:
• The establishment of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in 2005, which aims to provide universal health coverage and financial risk protection for Nigerians.
• The implementation of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) in 2018, which allocates 1% of the federal government’s consolidated revenue fund to primary health care services.
• The development of policies and regulations to promote quality assurance and accreditation of health care facilities and providers.
• The promotion of public-private partnerships and foreign direct investment in the health sector.
• The encouragement of local production and procurement of essential drugs and equipment.
• The training and retention of health workers and professionals.
Despite these efforts, there is still a long way to go to achieve a sustainable and equitable health care system in Nigeria. Some of the challenges that remain include:
• The low coverage and utilization of the NHIS and BHCPF by Nigerians, especially those in the informal sector and rural areas.
• The inadequate funding and allocation of resources to the health sector by the federal and state governments.
• The poor coordination and integration of health care services across different levels and sectors.
• The persistent insecurity and instability in some parts of the country that affect access to and delivery of health care services.
• The weak enforcement and compliance with quality standards and regulations by health care facilities and providers.
• The high demand and preference for foreign health care services by Nigerians who can afford it.
As Nigeria strives to achieve its vision of becoming one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2030, it is imperative that it invests more in its health sector and addresses the root causes of medical tourism. A healthy population is not only a human right but also a prerequisite for economic growth and development.