Wednesday, 18 February 2015

When medical tourism goes awry

When Mrs Deola Ogunfoworin (53) and her 32- year-old daughter, Funke embarked on a trip to India in the last quarter of 2014, both of them were hopeful of finding medical relief for an end stage kidney disease which had been preceded by a long standing history of type II diabetes mellitus and hypertension from which she suffered.

Their great expectations must have been given wings by the plethora of success stories, usually hyped in hyperboles, that attend such expeditions made by their compatriots, perhaps for more serious health challenges and who returned to the country fully restored to enjoy a new lease of life. She needed a kidney transplant for which according to her husband, Feyi, the family had rallied support to put up N3million.

On getting to India, the surgeons, however, found a tumour on her neck for which she needed an initial surgery before the kidney transplant could be embarked upon. Unexpectedly, the surgery on the tumour then gulped the entire N3 million leaving both mother and daughter high and dry in a foreign land and the patient still needing haemodialysis periodically.

Meanwhile, the haemodialysis itself comes at a cost considered as prohibitive not to mention the kidney transplant, now in abeyance, due to what a consultant Nephrologist in the hospital called “significant financial problems.” Obviously, the Ogunfoworins’ problems have been aggravated by a financial embarrassment that has turned them to a beggarly spectacle in India. 

The truth is that there are many Nigerians in India and probably elsewhere who are similarly circumstanced, in dire straits and needing some sort of rescue from embarrassing situations as they seek medical interventions that should ideally be available at home. In the last two decades, medical tourism especially to India has become a fad that has been unduly elevated to an addiction among Nigerians who have various health challenges with scant regard for their financial status.

It is also a great foreign exchange earner for India with patrons from the other parts of the world especially where such services come at princely costs but which are available in India at relatively cheaper rates. The relatively cheap laboratory and diagnostic services have even been on the export list of India to African countries for quite some time now.

Usually, decisions to seek medical interventions abroad are whimsically taken, most of the time, without exhausting domestic or local possibilities. For instance, we know for certain that kidney transplants are available in some hospitals in Nigeria with considerable success rates. It is therefore intriguing that the same Nigerians prefer travelling to India, with the attendant risks, to seeking relief at home.

If medical expertise is available locally, the unending search for help outside the shores of the country to the point of becoming stranded there can be reduced only by improving infrastructure and equipping local hospitals to universal standards. The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), laudable as it is, for instance, still suffers a lack of public understanding at least enough to attract larger participation by both the organised and unorganised private sector along with the public sector.

We believe that the NHIS should be jealously protected from the trouncing which similar schemes have suffered in the past that rendered them ineffectual and eventually comatose. With it, many more people can access health care delivery with minimum hassle.

It should also be possible to equip the Teaching Hospitals through solid arrangements with the private sector to offer services that are comparable with those found outside the shores of the country.

The sad and pitiable experience of Mrs Ogunfoworin, her daughter and many like them in vulnerable and compromising situations ought to gnaw at the sensibilities of the country’s establishment because it impugns on the image of the country. Although they may have made private arrangements to seek for medical interventions and therefore ought to bear the full consequences of their choices, languishing in a foreign land with the tag of Nigerian citizenship is without doubt a huge detraction from the country’s dignity which should be repudiated for the sake of national pride.

To this end, it is imperative to avail the people with health facilities that are efficient enough to render their compulsive medical tourism to foreign lands absolutely unnecessary. The NHIS should be improved and made inclusive to absorb many more people, an ideal that should be achievable since only a small percentage of its subscribers will eventually require the medical interventions that are expensive.

More importantly, it is repugnant that Nigerian citizens should be languishing in the hospitals of foreign countries in their bid to seek medical help that can be made available locally.


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