Media reports claim that the Senate has approved a princely sum of N1.3 billion for the upgrading of the State House clinic to a world class health facility. Its Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs, while disclosing this recently, said that the facility, when fully rehabilitated, will be good enough for the President and other top government functionaries to receive medical help when needed.
This, according to the lawmakers, will reduce to the barest minimum, the propensity of government officials to desire to embark on medical tourism outside the country. We find it difficult to comprehend at what point the State House clinic fell into disrepair.
That facility in the 80s and 90s was top class, good enough for two first ladies to have their babies there. It used to be about the best of its type in the country with reputable doctors, pharmacists and nurses. The nation’s attention was drawn to the low quality of facilities and services in the clinic by the First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari.
The situation was so bad that she lamented that even Panadol was not available in the clinic at some point just as she had to seek medical help elsewhere. This, in spite of the fact that, the Clinic receives multi-billion naira budgetary allocations every year.
How much of those billions are actually released is another issue on its own. Regardless, we consider it an aberration that a facility that is designed for and established to cater for the immediate health needs of the top echelon of the government is no better than a rural health centre.
It is from this perspective that we are moved to commend the Senate for this act of good faith in the nation’s health sector demonstrated by this commitment to rehabilitate the State House clinic. Having said this, we are quick to point out that medical tourism is a class thing, a status symbol.
Those who take pleasure in flying to Europe, America and India to treat flu and headache do so just to show off. They do so not as a result of the absence of good health facilities in the country. It is incontrovertible, in our view, that some facilities in the private sub-sector of the nation’s health sector can effectively compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
Sadly, for that class of government functionaries, until they are flown abroad, they don’t feel well. If the Senate succeeds in getting the clinic back to its glorious days, then they would have achieved something commendable.
We, however, thank COVID-19 for this effort to fix the health sector beginning with the State House clinic. That virus exposed the rot in the country’s healthcare delivery system and made medical tourism unattractive. This newspaper is hoping that the Senate and, indeed, the government at all levels, will not concentrate on facilities specially provided for them in their comfort zones.
They should and, we add, must make laws and appropriate funds for the total overhaul of the entire public health sector. At the peak of the pandemic, a top government official was reported to have lamented that he did not know that the nation’s hospitals were in so bad a shape. Now that the virus has brought the mess in the system to the fore, government will have no excuse not to fix things in this sector that defines what happens to other sectors of the nation’s life.
As it is said, health is wealth and the appreciation of this truism ought to catalyse government into doing the needful required to restore sanity in the public health institutions. In addition to this, we urge the Senate to use the opportunity provided by this pandemic to make laws banning medical tourism by government functionaries altogether with a caveat that if they insist on seeking medical help abroad, they must pay from their pockets.
Again, such officers will be allowed to embark on the trip at all only on the recommendation of a doctor who is certain that facilities for handling the ailment in question are not available in the country. We make this suggestion bearing in mind the drain on the nation’s foreign reserve medical tourism has become. Even worse is the ridicule Nigerians are exposed to when they go abroad for the flimsiest of health reasons.
At the risk of sounding morbid, some even go abroad to die just to show how affluent they were when their families carry obituaries that they died in India, United States of America or the United kingdom. In the meantime, we appeal to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to include medical tourism on the list of items not qualified to access foreign exchange from the official window. In our opinion, the time to cut all these luxuries that leave the nation poorer is now.
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