Nigerian politicians kill medical tourism bill


Nigerian politicians and officials have practised medical tourism for decades. Estimates of the cost to the state vary from US$400 million to US$2 billion.

President Buhari has now been appointed for a second term, despite breaking promises to curb medical tourism. Buhari remains the most prominent politician in the media making regular trips to private hospitals in London.

Doctors have led the call across Nigeria requesting regulations that ban public officials from leaving the country for medical treatment.  However, when a bill to stop medical tourism was introduced at the House of Representatives, the lawmakers condemned it and rejected the bill in unison in several votes.

Politicians claimed that the law would breach their human rights. The deputy speaker of the House, Lasun Yusuf, said, "This bill is against my fundamental human right. There are two fundamental wrongs in this bill, it is against human right and it is discriminatory. Do not let us debate this bill."

The 'Bill for an Act to Amend the National Health Act 2014 to Regulate International Trips for Medical Treatment by Public Officers to Strengthen the Health Institutions for Efficient Service Delivery' sought to amend Section 46 of the National Health Act, 2014 to regulate international trips for medical treatment by public officers and to strengthen the health institutions for efficient service delivery.

The bill, unlikely ever to become law, sought to make new legal rules "A public officer of the Federal Government shall not embark on medical trip abroad without approval; or be sponsored for medical check-up, investigation; or treatment abroad at public expenses except in exceptional cases on the recommendation and referral by the medical board and which recommendation or referral shall be duly approved by the Minister or Commissioner as the case may be; or embark on medical trip abroad unless he satisfactorily proves to the office where the officer is working, that such ailment cannot be treated in Nigeria."

Despite many promises, Nigeria, a country with some wealth, has not spent enough federal or state money to keep up with the increased demand for healthcare. And when new hospitals are launched, usually with a national politician claiming, 'this will end medical tourism', they are so starved of operating cash that some have been closed or operate way below capacity.

Medical tourism from Nigeria is the result of the refusal of successive governments to revamp healthcare delivery in the country.  Many Nigerians are driven to seek treatment abroad due to lack of trust in local hospitals and medical personnel.

The argument from those promoting the bill is "We need to kick against politicians using our collective resources to travel abroad for treatment. There ought to be benchmarks and specific provisions for medical allowances, and when a foreign medical trip exceeds this, the politician should bear the additional cost."

For further analysis of the medical travel flow to and from Nigeria, visit the IMTJ Country Profile.



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