Saturday, September 15, 2012

The lost memo on banning foreign medical trips for Nigerian public officers

In April, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu made a bold announcement  that he is considering sending a memo to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting to ban public officers going abroad for medical treatment.
President Goodluck Jonathan 

It is not clear if this memo was ever sent to the FEC.  Perhaps, next time the media meets with the honourable Minister, they have to remind him of his lost memo. Hopefully, he will not be embarrassed answering the question considering the President’s wife is currently said to be on a medical trip abroad.

Obviously, despite billions spent, the health facilities in Aso Rock are still not comparable to health facilities in Germany, Saudi Arabia and all the other places staff and residents of Aso Rock fly to at the slightest sign of head or belly ache.

In the last five years, from 2008 to 2012, a total of N4.15 billion has been spent by the Presidency to provide healthcare facilities in Aso Rock.  Going by the nature and amount of expenditure, the State House Medical Centre (SHMC) should be one of the best equipped hospitals in the world.

Drugs and medical supplies bought for the SHMC in Aso Rock consumed N1.69 billion in the last five years. In this year’s budget, the Presidency made a provision of N314 million for drugs and medical supplies. This was just 21% below the N402 million spent in 2011.

The presidency also spent N901 million purchasing different medical equipment in the last five years. The SHMC should be one of the best equipped medical centres for dialysis, considering the items bought in the last five years.

In 2008, for example, the Presidency spent about N6.8 million on the provision of a dialysis centre. It also spent N127 million on procurement of equipment for a medical laboratory, dental laboratory, physiotherapy, pharmacy, surgical, O&G, paediatrics, and ophthalmology.

The 2012 budget shows that the presidency spent about N93 million on a Dialog+Haemodialysis machine with an option for automatic blood pressure measurement. It also bought a Diapact CRRT (whatever that means), an acute dialysis machine, a modular one water reverse osmosis system (for up to 10 dialysis machine with pre-treatment) a comfort therapy dialysis chair, and a bedside table for dialysis chair

The Presidency also spent some money on a central sterilizing building for the State House Medical Centre and also bought a magnetic resonance imaging machine, and converted an existing mortuary(?) into an MRI room, offices, conveniences, medical records and common room for its medical officers.

But while the State House Medical Centre has been equipped with the state of the art medical facilities, which unfortunately fail to meet the medical needs of its exotic occupants, the non-exotic Nigerian on the street is faced daily with poorly equipped hospitals plagued by strikes from frustrated medical personal and lack of drugs.

While  rich  Nigerians can afford a trip abroad to take care of their headaches and other medical issues, the many poor die daily from commonly preventable diseases. Life expectancy in Nigeria at 48 years ranks among the lowest in the world, comparable only to war torn countries. The chance of a child born in Nigeria celebrating his fifth birthday is one of the lowest in the world. The Nigerian child is seven times more likely to die before the age of five than an Egyptian Child and twice more likely to die than a Ghanaian Child. 

Nigerians, who can afford it, spend an average of $200 million yearly travelling abroad to seek medical treatment. Basically, they are spending this money to escape death. 

However, it should be unacceptable that a public officer, spends public money, that should have gone into providing medical facilities locally, to go abroad for medical treatment for common ailments. This is double jeopardy for the ordinary Nigerian.

This is why the Minister’s memo to ban public officers spending public funds for foreign medical treatment is important. Unfortunately, that memo will remain lost in transit if the President, who is to approve the memo, has his wife abroad undergoing treatment for “belly ache” despite the state of the art medical facilities in Aso Rock. 

For an interesting piece on why Nigerians seek medical treatment abroad  read Outbound Medical Tourism

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