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How presidents, family members enjoy foreign medical care

Nigeria’s political leaders have paid little attention to fixing the country’s healthcare system because they and their family members are able to travel freely out of the country to meet their medical care needs, experts in the healthcare sector have told BusinessDay.
While the political echelon cumulatively spend billions of naira in oversea treatment, those who voted them into power continue to die from the most basic, preventable ailments.
Analysts say the trend of political officers seeking foreign medical care abroad has shown that it may, perhaps require ‘legislating common sense’ by forbidding public officials from overseas treatment, in order for concerted efforts to be made in reviving Nigeria’s broken health sector.
Occupants of Aso Rock always run abroad to seek medical care despite the billions of Naira budgeted for the State House Clinic. From 2015 to 2017, N11.1 billion was budgeted for the State House Clinic almost twice the country’s 16 teaching hospitals budget of N6.7 billion within the same period.
The State House Clinic has always enjoyed priority allocation in the budget over the years yet it has not been able to meet the medical needs of occupiers of Aso Rock.
In 2005, Stella Obasanjo, wife of then President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999 – 2007), died while undergoing liposuction on her abdomen and other parts of her body, at a clinic in the southern Spanish town of Marbella. A court in Malaga convicted plastic surgeon Antonio Mena Molina of negligent homicide.
The medical sojourn of former president Musa Yar’Adua (2007 – 2010), saw him spending up to 109 days in foreign hospitals abroad, out of 1,072 days spent as president from May 29, 2007, till his demise on May 5, 2010.
Yar’Adua during his time as president, was intermittently treated in Germany and Saudi Arabia, with his longest stay of 70 days in late 2009. At this time, criticism trailed this trip, particularly, for not handing over to then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan as constitutionally required.
Patience Jonathan, wife of President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015) as first lady, also had her fair share of oversea treatments, and after one of her trips, held a thanksgiving at the Aso villa chapel “for returning alive”.
She had claimed at the time to have undergone “seven surgeries  within one month  and the doctors had given up hope on her survival.”
It would later be revealed that as much as $31.4 million was expended on her medical care.
At least going by reports on a letter written to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which has been investigating her, and some of the previous administration’s allies including Waripamo Dudafa, Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was questioned on the said funds.
Since coming to power in 2015, President Buhari’s medical trips to the United Kingdom have also become routine.
On June 6, 2016, Buhari took 10 days leave to go threat an ear infection in London, the United Kingdom. In January 2017, he spent another 50 days in London undergoing what his handlers describe as “routine medical check-ups”, but which the president, on his return, confessed to be full blown treatment and that he had never been so sick all his life.
He remained in the country for three months, during which time he hardly stepped out, postponed and missed the weekly Federal Executive Council meetings several times, and his handlers declared that following doctor’s prescription, Buhari will work from home, triggering speculation about the severity of his condition.
He eventually returned to the UK on  May 7  and spent another 104 days still tending to his health.
Although, he returned to the country last year August in much improved health, there has been speculation that he often punctuates his foreign travels with secret visits to see his doctors in the UK since then.
Last month, the President travelled a week earlier for the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings.
Also, on his way back from his trip to the United States where he held talks with President Donald Trump, Buhari, according his media handlers, made a technical stopover in London to “refuel and carry out routine checks.”
While many politicians have so far been able to travel abroad for treatments of the most basic ailments, experts tell BusinessDay this will not always be the case particularly for some deadly diseases that will not distinguish the rich from poor.
“What the government officials need to know is that there are sicknesses that can hit you and not allow you time to travel abroad before you must be treated,” said Doyin Odubanjo, chairman, Lagos chapter of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria (APHPN).
“For some illnesses, you have to be treated within the first six hours to survive.  Also, there are illnesses (like Ebola) that you may not even be accepted at all for treatment anywhere abroad. We need to educate our officials about these so that they see the imperative for developing our Healthcare system in Nigeria even if you go abroad for treatment too,” said Odubanjo.
“We must learn how to build, use and love our own hospitals. We must also as a matter of urgency equip them because there is a huge patronage of these foreign hospitals by Nigerians,” said Ogbonnaya Igbowke, head, Health Thematic Group, human capital policy commission at the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG).
“Nobody really cares about what goes on here. Some hospitals even use candles to operate on patients in their theatres. This is how bad it has become. In fact, government must declare a state of emergency in the healthcare sector. The private sector must come in and forge an alliance with the government to salvage the sector,” said Igbokwe, also CEO, Heartwells Limited.
Francis Faduyile, president, Nigerian Medical Association also agreed that the trend in preference for oversea hospitals is an indication that the country is not quite serious about developing healthcare delivery.
“The country is playing lip service to health by allocating (a mere) three per cent (of the budget to it), whereas it was even in Abuja that all (African countries) agreed that at least 15 per cent must be budgeted for health from the annual budget.  It was just once in 2001 that Nigeria has gone beyond five percent,” he said.
As Faduyile reiterated, even when Yusuf Buhari, the President’s son was involved in a bike accident, he had to be treated at Cedacreast Hospital, Abuja, before he was later flown abroad. However, if someone in the private sector had failed to provide medical facilities good enough to stabilize him, the President’s son may not have been alive to make the trip abroad before recovering.
The post How presidents, family members enjoy foreign medical care appeared first on BusinessDay : News you can trust .

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