By Dr. Osahon Enabulele
I heard with shock and disappointment the statement issued on Sunday, June 5, 2016, by the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to Mr. President, informing the general public that President Muhammadu Buhari will proceed on a 10-day medical vacation to London from Monday, June 6, 2016, during which period he is billed to see an E.N.T. specialist for a persistent ear infection, based on a recommendation for further evaluation said to have been advanced by Mr. President’s Personal Physician and an E.N.T. specialist in Abuja.
Even though the nature of the persistent ear infection/specific diagnosis was not stated in the Special Adviser’s press release, I wish to commend Mr. President for the medical disclosure (a departure from the past) and sincerely sympathise with him, especially at this critical stage of our country’s history and development, and wish him quick recovery.
However, I am very constrained to state that this foreign medical trip flies in the face of the Federal Government’s earlier declaration of her resolve to halt the embarrassing phenomenon of outward medical tourism, which as at the end of the year 2013 had led to a humongous capital flight of about $1billion dollars, particularly from expenses incurred by political and public office holders (and their accompanying aides), whose foreign medical trips (most of which are unnecessary) were financed with tax payers’ resources.
At various times, one had advised Mr. President to make a clear public pronouncement on his resolve to show leadership by example with respect to the utilisation of the medical expertise and facilities that abound in Nigeria by him and other members of the Federal Executive Council, particularly in concrete expression of Section 46 of the National Health Act which seeks to address the abuse of tax payers’ resources through frivolous foreign medical travels embarked upon by political and public office holders.
Undoubtedly, this latest move by Mr. President at a time the Federal Government is said to be on a change mission and rebirth of national consciousness and commitment through a backward integration agenda, Mr. President has lost a golden opportunity to assert his change mantra through a clear demonstration of leadership by example, by staying back to receive medical treatment in Nigeria and thereby inspiring confidence in Nigeria’s health sector which currently boasts of medical experts that favourably compare with medical experts anywhere in the world, if not even better.
It is on record that most public and political office holders who seek foreign medical care abroad are handled by Nigerian trained doctors in foreign lands (particularly in the United Kingdom which has over 3000 Nigerian trained medical doctors, United States of America with over 5000 Nigerian trained medical doctors, among other foreign countries), most of whom left the shores of Nigeria on account of government’s perennial failure to address the various push and pull factors which have consistently driven this yearly brain drain phenomenon in Nigeria. Available records show that last year (2015) alone, 637 medical doctors emigrated due largely to poor working conditions and health facilities, insecurity, unpredictable and poor funding of Residency Training Programme, uncompetitive wages and job dissatisfaction.
Without prejudice to the expert recommendation of Mr. President’s Personal Physician and the ENT specialist said to have examined and treated Mr. President in Abuja, I consider it a national shame of immense proportions that Mr. President had to be recommended for foreign medical care/re-evaluation despite the presence of over 250 ENT specialists (and professors) in Nigeria, as well as a National Ear Centre located in Kaduna State.
If I were in their shoes I would have advised Mr. President to stay back in Nigeria and explore any of the following options: (1) urgently invite a consortium of Nigerian trained ENT specialists in Nigeria to Abuja to re-evaluate and treat Mr. President; or (2) if it is determined that the medical expertise is not available in Nigeria (and I doubt this), any identified Nigerian trained ENT specialist practising anywhere in the world should be invited to Abuja, for the sole purpose of re-evaluating and treating Mr. President; or (3) if it is a case where the health facilities/equipment are unavailable (and this is a possibility) then Mr. President should have used his current medical situation, though unfortunate, to commence the Federal Government’s plan to re-equip Nigerian hospitals with modern state-of-the art health facilities, by ordering for the needed medical equipment to enable the locally available Nigerian trained ENT specialists to attend to him, and thereafter use same facilities to attend to other Nigerians with similar conditions.
There are so many benefits that can accrue to Nigeria if Mr. President stays back in Nigeria to receive medical treatment and explores the above stated options. Indeed, it will be a win-win situation for Nigeria as Mr. President will not only get managed with the imported medical facilities and expertise (if indeed needed); he would save Nigeria (currently going through a socio-economic turmoil) the capital flight that would result from his planned foreign medical trip. It will also help to improve the state of healthcare facilities and medical practice in Nigeria (particularly through technology transfer).
I submitted myself for a highly skilled and successful ENT surgical intervention conducted in Nigeria in the month of April, 2016. As a trained medical specialist, I believe that those ENT specialists/medical experts (and many others in Nigeria) who handled my situation then are skilled enough, and with the right equipment in place can handle any complicated ENT problem in Nigeria.
The President should show committed leadership by urgently rethinking the planned foreign medical travel and exploring the suggested options of getting treated here in Nigeria.
Doing otherwise will send a strong negative signal to majority of toiling Nigerians who either have no means to seek healthcare services or daily indulge in catastrophic health expenditures, talk less of dreaming of travelling abroad for medical treatment.
• Dr. Enabulele, M.B; B.S, MHPM, FWACP is
Vice President, Commonwealth Medical Association.