REVIEWING OVERSEAS MEDICAL TRIPS
The move by the Federal Government to review sponsorship of overseas medical trips for its officials is timely. Health Minister, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, who gave details of the impending review in Abuja on January 10, condemned the frequency of travels abroad for medical treatment by government officials.
He explained that government would no longer sponsor such trips unless the required medical treatment is unavailable in the country.
He revealed that the ministry is putting final touches to a memo to be sent to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approval of the new policy. The review is hinged on the need for prudent management of the nation's scarce resources, and restoration of confidence in the nation's health services.
Hitherto, the Federal government has been expending huge sums on medical treatment for its officials, even when such treatment can be accessed in our local hospitals. Under the new policy, the Minister of Health has to write and certify the need for overseas medical treatment before any Federal Government official can be sponsored on such trips. He will need to certify that treatment and investigative facilities in the country are inadequate for the ailment in question.
We support this policy because it will centralize approval of such trips, instead of the present situation in which individual government organisations sponsor such trips without the approval of the Minister of Health.
There is no doubt that the penchant of Nigerian public officials for profligacy is at the root of the frequent quest for overseas medical treatment, even when there are equipment and personnel for diagnosis and treatment of their ailments in the country. This tendency, however, is worsened by the paucity of adequate medical facilities in the country.
There is no doubt that the quality of facilities for treatment of certain serious ailments such as cancer, kidney and heart diseases in the country is poor. There is also acute shortage of these facilities. To discourage trips for medical treatment abroad, therefore, the government should significantly improve the quality of medical facilities and personnel in the country.
The entire health sector should be upgraded so that the people can have reason to trust medical facilities in the country for their health needs. If the sector is upgraded, Nigerians will develop confidence in local hospitals and patronise them.
The present situation of health care in the country is a challenge to the nation's health sector, at Federal, State and local government levels.
The Health Minister also said in spite of the need to respect the wishes of those who prefer medical treatment overseas, such medical trips still amount to capital flight, which is not good for the country. He is right. But, it is not enough for the government to just try to discourage Nigerians from seeking medical treatment in other countries. There should be medical treatment comparable with what is available abroad in the country to discourage this avoidable capital flight.
In this regard, it is good that Professor Chukwu has charged officials of both the Federal and State Ministries of Health, the local councils' health offices and the organised private health sector to upgrade quality of services to gain the confidence of the people. We urge health service providers and managers at these levels to take the minister's charge seriously.
It is only when adequate medical care in terms of facilities and properly trained and committed personnel are available that we can hope to stop capital flight to other countries in the quest for medical treatment. If adequate and affordable facilities are available in Nigeria, there will be lower tendency for the people to seek the more expensive medical treatment abroad.
Let the newly proposed policy on overseas medical treatment be speedily fine-tuned and implemented. It will go a long way in stopping government officials from making a holiday of overseas trips for medical treatment.