Foreign treatment, exodus of medical doctors: Expert suggests PPP, lifting ban on medical adverts to boost Nigerian medicare sector

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As about 2,500 Nigerian doctors head abroad every year, a longstanding medical practitioner who has resisted the urge to flee has called for partnership between the public and private sectors to boost medical practice in Nigeria and thus reduce medical tourism abroad.

Dr Jack Omodu, a urologist and medical director of Collworth Medical Centre in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, made the call on Saturday, November 17, 2018, at the TEDx re-Frame event at Horlicks Event Centre on Eastern By-Pass where he also called for the lifting of the ban on medical advertisements, saying it has made strides by Nigerian hospitals to remain unknown while patients troop abroad for same treatments.

The project, re-Frame, is a platform created by TEDx Port Harcourt to allow innovative Nigerians reveal what they do and allow a new perspective on the way issues are viewed, according to Donald Okudu, the Creative Director/Primary Licencee for TEDx Port Harcourt, who the scheme is aimed at the youth who must begin to create new perspectives that would help them take their destiny in their hands.

Speaking on medical tourism and surgery without cuts, Omodu, offered solutions to exodus of medical doctors, and said there is need to for the regulators to visit every hospital and clinic to review accreditation and ensure that quality was maintained to restore confidence in Nigerian hospitals. He also called on the medical council to as a matter of must relax the rule on advertising to allow Nigerians know what some hospitals can do. “Many Nigerian hospitals can do what is being done abroad, but people do not know. Our centre has so far performed 400 endoscopic surgeries and the patients are happy. We perform prostate and other surgeries right here in Port Harcourt without cutting and patients walk away the next day or so. This is what people do not believe is possible in Nigeria. Equipment is the issue. It is not cheap.”

To rescue medical practice in Nigeria and reduce capital flight through medical treatment or tourism abroad, Omodu said there must be private public partnership (PPP).  He wants governments to build and equip hospitals to world-class standards and hand them over to bonded private practitioners on specific terms. “Most of the best hospitals abroad are privately owned, too. Also, help doctors to get more training. My ties to Nigeria are holding me from fleeing too. My peers have left. We here also do things they do abroad; often, they ask me how I learnt what I did. Private-sector driven healthcare system is the way to end medical tourism abroad.”

Earlier, he said: “Most persons go abroad for medicals (treatment, check-up, tests, grafting, etc). Today, if you go to the Indian embassy in Nigeria, you will see a huge crowd. It represents the number of people going to India for medical reasons. It is medical tourism.”

He recalled some disturbing statistics, thus: “Nigeria’s government officials lead the trail in seeking treatment abroad. Nigeria has produced about 80,000 medical doctors but 13,500 are practicing outside the country with 5,000 in the UK alone. Many others have retired, are dead, or have moved on to other professions. About 2,500 leave the medical practice in Nigeria every year, mostly to foreign lands.”

He shocked the audience when he revealed how a government hospital in Port Harcourt that had five pediatricians now has only one left. “That only one just came to me of late to sign some papers for him to leave, too. Nigeria now grooms medical doctors who leave to other countries. Soon, butchers would have to replace surgeons in Nigerian hospitals because there won’t be surgeons left. Quality of medical care is thus fast declining and is forcing patients abroad. Now, the paradox: Is it the drop in quality that drove patients abroad or doctors went abroad forcing patients to follow them? Doctors and patients are all leaving Nigeria.”

Giving reasons for the exodus, Omodu said; “Equipment is scarce in Nigerian hospitals, power supply makes cost of treatment high, etc. Quality of life is low in Nigeria but doctors want to live better. So, they find it abroad and leave. If minimum wage is struggling to be N30,000 per month, how do people pay for medical bills? Doctors employed in the public sector (by the governments) are sure of salary but they have no equipment and facilities to work with. Those employed in the private sector are poorly paid but they deliver better service because that is the only way they can earn the little they get.”

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