Lessons from President Buhari’s medical tourism

Last Week Wednesday, the presidential Air force 1, carrying President Muhammadu Buhari touched down at about 4:45pm at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, bringing home, the president who was in London on a 17-day medical vacation. President Buhari had departed Nigeria on March 30th, for a routine medical check-up, according to a statement by the presidential Media Office.

With that trip, the president spent a total of 187 days on medical vacation outside the country since he became president on May 29, 2015. From available record, President Buhari had on June 6th, 2016, embarked on medical tourism over what his Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity described as “a persistent ear infection”. Mr. Adesina had stated that although President Buhari had been examined and treated by his personal physician and a specialist medical personnel in Abuja, both doctors advised the president to travel abroad for further evaluation in London as a precaution.

13 days after, on June 19, 2016, the president returned from what was originally planned to be 10 days vacation.  Also, on January 23rd, 2017, Buhari departed from the country saying that he was embarking on a 10-day medical vacation. But, on February 5th, 2017, through a letter to the National Assembly, the president said he was extending the vacation indefinitely and eventually returned to the country on March 10th, 2017 after having spent 49 days in a London hospital. Yet on May 7, same year, after spending around 57 days in the country, the President returned to London for another round of indefinite medical check-up, returning to the country on August 19, 2017, making it a consecutive 103 days on the medical trip.

Also on May 8th, 2018, almost eight months after returning from the 103-days medical trip he embarked on yet another trip bordering on health concerns. The president returned on May 11th, bringing the total of his medical visits to 169 days. Then on March 30th, 2021, the President left again for London where he spent 18 days, returning on April 17th. In all, our dear president spent a total of 187 days on medical vacation: 13 days in 2016, 152 days in 2017, 4 days in 2018 and 18 days this year, 2021.

As far as we at The AUTHORITY are concerned, there is nothing basically wrong in a man deciding to travel anywhere to receive medical attention. What is worrisome however is that we are not in any doubt that our national security are being compromised and secondly, for a president of a country, a country considered as the first among equals on the African continent, to be so constantly travelling abroad for medical treatment, shows that something is definitely wrong with setting our priorities.

Without dwelling on the economic implications of moving the seat of power of a nation to another country over such a matter, is it not just more sensible that our political managers should have realized that the constant medical tourism of the president is a vote of no confidence on the nation’s healthcare system? Otherwise, what other message are we passing around other than that the state of our healthcare facilities are about the worst globally? And if that is so, what have we done, especially since the present regime came into office?

Without dwelling on issues of the past as those occupying executive political offices would always do, flying our dear president always outside the country on medical vacation, should not be consistently blamed on past administrations. Although we cannot say that past administrations did so well in revamping our healthcare sector, but, having realized the precarious situation we are in, what have the president administration done to reverse this ugly trend? It is not enough to always engage in buck passing, it is a better message and a thing of consolation that those who met a messy system have put in so-so and so in tangible, verifiable, concrete terms at reversing the ugly past.

By the president consistently passing a vote of no confidence on Nigeria’s health sector in preference to London healthcare system, what message are we passing around? What are we telling the teeming over 200 million other Nigerians? That they should all brace up to fly abroad for Medicare or die of whatever ailment that is disturbing the individual?

Reports surrounding the nation’s health sector, especially since the current administration came into office are not too satisfactory. We remember vividly the large-scale scam at the National Heath Insurance Scheme (NHIS). Also, there is nothing to cheer also regarding our Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centers.  These are ordinarily centers of excellence which should stand out both in name and essence as tertiary medical institutions. But, it is unfortunate that those who do not mean well for Nigeria have consistently applied the same disincentive which have rendered our public primary and secondary schools to mere shadow institutions, and so, they ensured that medical personnel at public medical institutions are perpetually on industrial action by entering into 419 agreements with the labour leaders.

Since our top public officers in all tiers of government have so shamelessly been boasting on the number of foreign medical trips they embark on yearly, how can we fix our healthcare systems? It is this same attitude that frustrated efforts of Nigerian scientists who attempted to research on covid-19 pandemic. Due to the allure for foreign brand, the managers of our health sector frustrated these scientists to the extent that even the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was not allowed to play the statutory role of satisfying the covid-19 vaccine currently in use.

We must change our attitude to relying more on foreign items and services. It not only depletes our national resources, but posts us as a country with a lot of instability, especially bothering on national security.

It must be emphasized that President Buhari should, as a matter of priority, set out to build a world-class hospital where our high and might could safely go for medical treatment. Efforts should also be made to upgrade our Military hospitals to world-class status, not just on paper, but in reality and be seen to be so by all and sundry. The recourse to embarking on foreign medical tourism by our political leaders are part of the unfortunate negatives which the Buhari administration must put to a stop, before he leaves office in 2021.

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