Tuesday, 12 March 2013 13:09

When Medical Tourism Becomes A Cultural Phenomenon

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The term medical tourism was coined by Americans about a decade ago when there was a surge in the number of US citizens travelling overseas in search of lower medical cost for cosmetic and other major surgical procedures in places like India and Mexico where it was believed the cost of these procedures generally cost much less than what it would cost to have the same procedures done in the United States. India especially is often mentioned as a hot spot for medical tourism after it built up a reputation for having a comparable level of advanced medical technology as the US. 

The reverse is the case in Nigeria where medical tourism has become a cultural phenomenon as Nigerian leaders and members of the elite class are well known for going overseas for routine medical care. For decades Nigerian leaders and elite have complained about the poor quality of Nigerian hospitals and have used this excuse as justification for travelling overseas for medical care.  What is baffling is; when would it occur to these leaders that it is their responsibility to fix the ailing medical infrastructure in Nigeria? Who else is supposed to fix this problem? And to the elite class, has it ever occurred to these people that they could invest a portion of their vast financial wealth in building first class medical centers in Nigeria which would yield good dividend for their investment. They could receive medical care in these facilities and as a result, the money stays in Nigeria. In a country with huge unemployment, investing in first class medical facilities would create jobs for Nigerians in the healthcare field and other ancillary professionals.

This endeavor could also create employment for people in feeder industries such as food vendors, companies that supply uniforms, durable medical equipments, medical instrumentation and companies that supply other items that would be needed to keep a hospital running. In addition, this could create jobs for people in the construction industry who would be expected to build these medical facilities. An added benefit could be the reversal of the brain drain amongst Nigerian doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who seek greener pastures overseas due in large part to the appalling state of the healthcare infrastructure in Nigeria. 

There is a saying in American socio-cultural parlance that a sign of mental illness is when someone applies a failed solution to the same problem over and over and expects a different outcome.  Realizing that Nigeria is the land of untapped opportunities and considering the influx of the Nigerian elite coming to their country for medical care, it was reported that a group of Indian investors have exported their services to Nigeria. They have built a first class state of the art medical center in Abuja where the only currency they accept for payment is the US dollar and they are thriving according to a relative who is familiar with the facility.  This reflects an embarrassing lack of vision on the part of Nigerian leaders and elite. While India was developing and making advances in information and bio-medical technologies, our leaders were busy looting and further under developing the country.  Now India has become a hot spot for medical tourism while Nigeria remains the laughing stock amongst developing countries especially on the African continent due to decades of misrule, waist and lost opportunities. 

Rather than travelling to countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, India, South Africa and Saudi Arabia amongst others for medical care and spending hard currency which helps to beef up the economies of these countries, these funds would be better spent in Nigeria where the need is much greater.  In a country where Stella Obasanjo the wife of a former President died in a Spanish hospital reportedly while undergoing treatment for a cosmetic procedure when her husband was the sitting president.  In a country where the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua spent months in a Saudi hospital receiving treatment before he returned to Nigeria and later passed away. In a country where the wife of the current president Patience Jonathan was reported to have recently received medical treatment in Germany, when will it occur to these leaders that it is embarrassing for them to keep travelling overseas for medical care when Nigeria has the wealth and wherewithal to do what the Indian investors have done in Abuja?

Why are Nigerian leaders and elite so shameless? How is it possible that India, a developing country like Nigeria in 1999 has made such phenomenal progress that it had the clout to join Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa to form the BRICS block of nations? The BRICS are a force to be reckoned with in the international community and at the United Nations. This is because the leaders and elite in India are visionaries. It is no secret that the Indians played a significant role in the development of Silicon Valley in California. They have also benefitted immensely from outsourcing, which is a phenomenon in which American companies ship jobs to India in search of cheap labor and to maximize profits. This is due in part to India’s reputation for being an information technology power house. The next time you call your bank to dispute a credit card transaction, you can expect to speak to a customer service rep in India. That is what outsourcing looks like. What is sad about all of this is that Nigerians have the potential to rival what the Indians have achieved. Unfortunately, Nigerian leaders and governments often lack the vision to mobilize and leverage our potentials, a lesson the Indians have learned very well.

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Tony Ebeh

Anthony Ebeh is an avid writer and essayist on a wide range of political and economic issues impacting the African continent and more specifically Nigeria. He is passionate about politics especially Nigerian politics, its affairs and the wellbeing of its people.

He is both a Political Scientist and Licensed Social Work Clinician/Psychotherapist. He was a founding member of the Nigerian Social Workers Association (NSWA) based in New York City and a former General Secretary of the Organization for the Advancement of Nigerians (OAN Inc.) also based in New York City. He was the General Secretary of the MB Shehu Campaign Committee for Governor of Kaduna State in 2006/2007.

His writings have appeared in various Nigerian newspapers and magazines including but not limited to African Abroad, US African Eye, The Nigerian & African Magazine and ChatAfrik.com amongst others.