According to the Ministry of Health, Nigerians spend over $1 billion annually on medical tourism abroad. This can be attributed to a lack of confidence in the local healthcare system, accompanied by an increasing death rate during child delivery, inadequate medical equipment, and a lack of emergency services. The practice of outbound medical tourism has been predominantly prevalent among those of elevated status and wealth, as well as top government officials. Other individuals who travel for medical care include those sponsored by organisations.
In response to the growing concerns of outbound medical tourism, the Federal Government of Nigeria has proposed a policy to ban citizens from traveling abroad for medical attention. The policy is expected to be effective from 2017. Subsequently, citizens will be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment, only if the required facilities are not available in the country.
The government has initiated plans to implement a three-point strategic approach including the National Health Agenda (NHA), the National Health Gazette (NHG), and the National Health Act to boost the local health sector and reduce outbound medical tourism practices. Apart from this, the government is also planning to extend access to universal health insurance through the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, targeting at least 40 million Nigerians in 2016.
The Federal Government has partnered with the Akwa Ibom Government to supervise the operations of the Ibom Specialist Hospital at Uyo. Conversion of the Diagnostic Centre to a Laser Fever Diagnostic Centre, and construction of an Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) at Ikot Ekpene, has been proposed to moderate the pressure on the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH). In June 2016, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) inaugurated the Medical, Pharmaceutical and Allied Services Group to improve health concerns and related services in Nigeria.
Indian doctors and medical experts are supporting the Nigerian Government to stop outbound medical tourism in the country. Knowledge sharing and training programs are being conducted in different hospitals to educate Nigerian doctors on the latest technology and trends in the field of medicine. This, in turn, will facilitate the treatment of patients locally. The Apollo Specialty Hospital in India is collaborating with the Nigerian Government to launch its branch in Nigeria with a view to encourage inbound medical tourism in the country. The Primus International Super Specialty Hospital has been opened at Abuja with a provision of 120 beds. Other hospitals are also moving in to establish a network of world-class health centres in Nigeria.
Some essential steps that can assist with increasing inbound medical tourism include:
- Introduction of strategies to establish an effective local presence with enhanced investments in local healthcare facilities
- Attract tourist attention by offering college and other educational scholarships
- Effective communication services to reach targeted areas in the country
- Deliver transparent costs to remain competitive in the global health industry
- Efficient and local-friendly visa services
- High-quality treatment facilities
- Improved post treatment services
While in the past, Nigeria recorded an inherent trend for foreign medical facilities, it is now expected to show a promising shift with increased private sector participation and government’s focus on establishing tertiary health facilities in the country. With the implementation of the above mentioned strategies, the country is expected to emerge as a destination with more cost-effective and advanced healthcare facilities in the near future.