Each year, millions of people travel to different countries for medical tourism. Originally, medical tourism referred to people from less developed countries travelling to more technically advanced countries to get medical treatment. But it goes both ways now. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), millions of US residents commonly travel to Mexico and Canada, as well as countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, for various reasons such as costs, culture, and sometimes, illegal medical procedures.
In Nigeria, it’s the other way round as most travel abroad for treatment due to inadequate healthcare facilities. Bad governance, corruption, and lack of accountability, among others, contribute to why Africa’s biggest economy’s healthcare system is wack.
What is medical tourism?
Medical tourism refers to traveling outside the country of residence to receive medical care. In the past, it was usually referred to as people from less developed countries travelling to more developed countries for medical treatment. Nowadays, the term includes people from developed countries travelling to lesser developed countries for medical treatment. What makes these travels touristic is that they often stay in the foreign country after the medical procedure and take advantage of their visits by sightseeing, taking day trips, or participating in other traditional tourism activities.
Types of medical tourism
There are multiple types of medical tourism. However, below are the top 10 treatments that people travel for worldwide:
Cosmetic surgery improves a person’s appearance through cosmetic or plastic procedures. It is an expensive surgical procedure that requires highly developed technological steps and instruments. Not every country has the facilities for these surgeries. So most patients travel to other countries for the procedure.
Cardiology refers to treating congenital heart diseases, coronary artery disease, heart failure, or Bueller heart disease and Electrophysiology. The treatment is often one of the popular reasons why travel to foreign countries. Some countries, particularly the less developed ones, don’t have adequate facilities to treat patients, forcing them to travel to foreign countries that are well equipped for treatment.
Senator Ekweremadu’s organ harvesting case in the United Kingdom has been in the news. Organ transplant refers to the process of surgically removing an organ or tissue from one person (the organ donor) and placing it into another person to replace a damaged or missing organ. It is a very risky procedure that only well-trained surgeons in adequately equipped hospitals can perform successfully. So patients travel to foreign countries that have them for medical tourism.
ALSO READ: All there is to know about organ harvesting
A lot of women travel for medical tourism for fertility purposes. For some, it is to find medical solutions for infertility, while others are mainly pregnant women who want to have the best medical attention throughout the pregnancy journey.
This is a surgical procedure for weight loss. It is often done for overweight patients. Bariatric or weight loss surgery requires highly trained professional experts or surgeons to do this. Not all countries have the facilities, making patients travel to foreign countries for treatment.
Ears, nose, and throat
ENT surgeries require top-notch modern equipment and technologies. Thus, patients travel to developed countries for treatment.
Only expert surgeons can perform eye surgery because it is very risky. All countries don’t have eye expert surgeons and facilities. So patients travel to developed countries for treatment.
Orthopedic surgery is a branch of surgery done for conditions involving the musculoskeletal system. Here, surgeons use surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors, and congenital disorders. A lot of patients seek medical tourism in developed countries for treatment.
People often seek dental healthcare facilities outside their own country. Some countries lack the ever-advancing facilities.
Some countries don’t have enough rehabilitation centers for patients to recover from different ailments and addictions. So most travel to other countries for recovery.
Medical tourism in Nigeria
Medical tourism is very popular in Nigeria. Many Nigerians, particularly the elites, travel to developed countries to treat various ailments. Some convicted corrupt politicians have cited medical tourism as a reason for filing for bail.
According to the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), about N576 billion ($1.2 billion) is lost to medical tourism yearly in Nigeria. Backing the claim, the federal government admitted that Nigerians spend between USD1.2 and USD1.6 billion (N664bn at 415/$) on medical tourism annually. Even the President, Muhammadu Buhari, is is known for periodically embarking on medical trips to London.
India, the United States, Canada, the UK, Malaysia, and Dubai, among others, are top medical tourism destinations for Nigerians. Fertility, organ transplant, cardiology, ENT, cosmetic surgery, oncology, etc., are the popular treatments that prompt Nigerians to travel abroad for medical tourism.
Nigerians travel abroad for medical treatment because of the inadequately funded healthcare system, squalid clinics and hospitals, and poorly paid and overworked healthcare workers, which the country has suffered for decades. A lot of healthcare workers are moving abroad due to these problems. According to the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), there is one doctor for every 5000 people in Nigeria, a terrible statistic that has worsened the healthcare system.
The federal government has acknowledged that medical tourism is draining the nation’s resources and promised to find ways to curb it. Already, millions are reported to be spent on the public health sector, which includes salaries of all public sector doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, as well as other health programmes like malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) prevention.
So far, there are no visible improvements in the sector. Let’s watch and see if the Buhari-led government will fulfill its promises of curbing brain drain and medical tourism in Nigeria within the administration’s final months.
Reasons for medical tourism
- Quality health care
- Access to skilled specialists
- Range of available procedures
- Availability of alternative treatments
- Cost-effective, especially for patients from developed countries travelling to less developed countries.
- Faster access to treatment.
- To enjoy a vacation.
Disadvantages of medical tourism
- Unregulated procedures in some countries can lead to serious complications, even death for patients.
- Medical tourism drains a nation’s foreign resources as people spend more money outside the country than inside.
- High rate of brain drain in the health care sector where workers are forced to take medical jobs abroad.
- If medical tourism goes wrong, most countries have no well-framed regulations to support distressed medical travelers.
- It is often expensive for patients from less developed countries.
- There might be problems with legal permits and paper works which can prolong the tourism, thus a patient’s ailment.
- In most cases, patients and their family members are unsure about the doctors’ qualifications. They are also unaware of their tolerance levels and may invite secondary health problems.
ALSO READ: 10 benefits of DNA tests in Nigeria