The Potential Bright Sides of President Buhari’s Medical Tourism By Chinekotam Harrison [READ]

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By Chinekotam Harrison

The Potential Bright Sides of President Buhari’s Medical Tourism By Chinekotam Harrison. Photo Credit: File

In 1988, a personal tragedy in the life of a US businessman, Ted Stanley, would go ahead to inspire groundbreaking inquiries into the treatment of bipolar disorder in the United States and the world. For three days in 1988, Jonathan Stanley, the son of Ted Stanley, roamed the street of New York after having a false sense of being a person of interest and of being stalked by the United States secret services. Police later found Jonathan in a slum, mentally troubled, and he was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder by doctors. This led his father to commit his fortune of up to $650 million dollars for greater research into psychiatry. Many years later, Ted Stanley told the media that his son’s life was saved, and he decided to donate to psychiatric research because : “I would like to purchase that happy ending for other people”.

I am glad that President Buhari was able to overcome the recent health challenges that forced him to stay off the shores of Nigeria for over a hundred days. Be that as it may, there would be endless discussions about many issues surrounding his decision to seek medical care outside the country he swore an oath to secure – mind you, healthcare is part of security.

There are many questions about the morality of the leader of a country running to another country for health services, when he’s in a vantage position to secure the same for himself and his citizens in his country, to prevent the frequent and future escapes to a foreign land for treatment. This is not discussing the economic consequences of depleting the foreign exchanges on medical tourism, in addition to the demands of education tourism to the United Kingdom by various Nigerian students already.

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In another light, there is the question of privilege. Many people who genuinely celebrated the return of the president home were the poor, rural and disadvantaged Nigerians without a connection to the policies of the president. Many of them live from farm to markets, providing their own electricity and most of their other social amenities, without benefitting from the political intrigues that come with the arrival or departure of the president from the country. But from the energy in their celebration, one can tell that they believe their lives, their future, their yearnings are tied inexplicably to the survival of their beloved president. The question that arises from their love for president Buhari is what would their lot be if they come face to face with a medical problem that cannot be treated in our general hospitals across the country as the healthcare situation stands today? Is there a robust health insurance capable of coming to their aid in terms of critical health challenges like whatever the president just survived?

For many Nigerians, the bone of contention is about strengthening our democracy and seeking probity. It should be acknowledged here that the Buhari administration has not been the best when it comes to answering questions about the presidency. The silence on the other end bears a semblance of arrogance and sometimes beggars belief. Questions left unaddressed include who was funding the medical expenses of the president for the hundred days? Transparent democracies around the world would have ready answers to this question with the speed of light. Femi Adeshina did not pacify the curiosity of Nigerians when he feigned ignorance on this topic on national television. What is the nature of his health challenges? These are questions that demand transparency once a person puts himself up for public office.

It is pertinent to note that the amount Ted Stanley donated to research in psychiatry in 1988 is almost equal to the amount Nigerian elites spent on medical tourism in 2013 (750 million dollars). What if the president equips a total of six general hospitals in the six geopolitical zones and provide them with the state of the art facilities to cater to the health needs of the underprivileged? Another issue his last medical trip brought to the fore was a nostalgic feeling of forgotten pasts when Nigeria was a site of medical tourism for the royal family of Saudi kingdom. Some Nigerian doctors who still have faith in the possibility of a turnaround for the Nigerian health sector have lamented how things got this bad. It’s not much of a surprise that the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, Mr Okechukwu, while representing the vice president of Nigeria at a health parley recently, took a swipe at the negative effects of medical tourism on the Nigerian economy. In his words : “We want to stop that trend because it is draining our reserves,”

What if the president, instead of wasting resources every year by budgeting for the Aso Rock clinic decides to take a decisive course of action to spend the yearly estimates for the clinic on remodeling a teaching hospital around Abuja or even a military hospital that could serve as a center of medical excellence? The budget for Aso Rock clinic has become impossible to ignore, considering that it runs into billions of naira each year , only to still be unable to stop the president from traveling abroad for medical attention.

In the end, many will like to argue that delivering on his electoral promises should be of more concern to you and I than what he has to say or do with his medical records or his frequent medical globetrotting. I do strongly agree. But these same people fail to remember the president’s stance on transparency when he fired several broadsides at the late President Umar Yaradua during his medical struggles, demanding his resignation as well as removing the veils of secrecy on his health status. Unfortunately for them, the issues of 2009 are still relevant today. And more than anything else, President Buhari should endeavor to do what that US businessman, Ted Stanley, did for his son and others in 1988, he should purchase a happy ending for other Nigerians who are not as privileged to fly on a private jet to a private doctor abroad.

Chinekotam Harrison is a student.

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