A quick end to medical tourism: Yahaya Bello’s lofty dream
By Hafsat Ibrahim
“Time and health are two precious assets which we do not recognize and appreciate until they have been exhausted.”
Medical tourism has been a big issue in the Nigerian public space for decades. It is a practice that not only costs Nigerians dearly in hard currency but also in national pride.
After more than 60 years of independence, it is unfortunate and shameful that Nigerian leaders have been so irresponsible over the years that they have failed to fix the country’s health infrastructure, even for their own enlightened self-interest. Observers have said that since political office holders and their families are not barred from applying for health insurance abroad, nothing concrete will be done to solve the problems at home.
Yet there is one governor in Nigeria who is not waiting for such extreme measures to be put in place to do the needful.
Governor Yahaya Bello is not only investing huge sums of money in health infrastructure across the state and is investing enormous effort and time in formulating policies to expand the space for the delivery of quality health care in the state, he is actually very intentional and meticulous in pursuing his long-term goal of eradicating medical tourism.
A very ambitious governor, Bello said his dream is to create a list of world-class medical institutions that will be a point of reference not only for Kogites but also for residents and natives of surrounding states. This kind of dream is brilliant because Kogi State is in the middle of Nigeria, bordering about ten states. Even though it is only these ten states and Kogi that are removed from the list of Nigerians traveling out of the country for medical reasons under the Bello Medical Institutions, it is a great achievement.
Recently, I had the privilege of being part of a media tour in Kogi State for a fact-finding mission on the achievements and challenges of the current administration.
When we sat down to talk with the Commissioner of Health, Dr Saka Haruna, he said that the administration had done a lot of construction, renovation and redevelopment of medical facilities and no local government had been excluded from these projects.
“Since the implementation of the New Direction Blueprint, the infant/maternal mortality rate has decreased significantly. Our long-term plan focuses primarily on infrastructural intervention. Malaria vaccination has been given to all children, health insurance is available and the administration has also introduced the Bello Health Intervention Program (BHI) which mainly consists of two components; Payment of needy patients and purchase of drugs for a special category of patients. More than 2,500 indigenous people currently benefit from it and it also supports people living with disabilities.
He challenged us to visit some of the sites where the projects are taking place so that we fully understand Governor Bello’s passion for ending medical tourism among the Kogites.
We started by visiting Prince Audu Abubakar Teaching Hospital in Anyigba, which was started by Governor Bello and was nearing completion, and Lokoja Specialty Hospital, which was undergoing a facelift from world class by the administration. We also saw the beautiful Okene Referral Hospital which was started by the administration and is also nearing completion. From what we have seen and heard in Okene, the Referral Hospital, as the name suggests, is meant to handle the most complicated and complex medical cases that require the best attention.
With well-equipped wards, a psychiatric clinic, perfect maternity and theater halls, the specialty hospital is worthy of the state capital. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is also well equipped with a seasoned neonatologist who would always be available to give newborns the best care. We also understood that the hospital has a 24/7 emergency department and an ambulance service that goes as far as Ekiti State in the south and Abuja in the north. We were also informed that the same specialty hospital standard was being replicated in the other two senatorial districts in the state.
Prince Abubakar Audu University Hospital in Anyigba has 300 beds, 5 laboratories, standard male and female wards, among other amazing facilities.
When leaders lead by example, followers follow the examples to the letter. If there is one Governor Bello appointee who has truly internalized his passion for excellence, particularly the determination to end medical tourism, it is the equally hardworking Vice Chancellor of Prince Abubakar University. Audu, Professor Marietu Tenuche. Alone, the VC built a new block in the main campus clinic and equipped it with modern facilities and human resources to fight cancer, diabetes and other terminal diseases.
What we saw from all the places we went proved one thing, that this governor is really ambitious. In the meantime, the commissioner was right. He had warned us several times during the interview that what we were about to see would shock us. If we just listened to the Commissioner and left for Abuja without seeing the plans, we would have simply concluded that the Governor was just a dreamer.
But now we can safely say that the governor is a dreamer and a doer.