From Jefferson Ibiwale, Benin
Nigeria loses over N78 billion yearly through capital flight by individuals and public officials who seek medical treatment abroad, the minister of health, Chukwu Onyebuchi, has said.
Onyebuchi who was speaking in Benin, Edo State, at the burial ceremony of the father of the president of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Osahon Enabulele, said the trend has become worrisome, more so because some of those who seek foreign medical attention end up being detained over their inability to pay their bills.
“There are some Nigerians detained in other countries because they could not pay for their medical bills , some of them, their communities have written me letters for financial assistance because they cannot come back to Nigeria because they are owing. It is a big problem,” he said.
The minister, however, disclosed that the federal government has initiated a policy that will help curb this trend, as it will ensure that only those whose cases cannot be handled in Nigeria or who are financially capable are allowed to seek foreign medical help.
According to him, the new policy would require the approval of the minister of health before public servants at the federal or state levels can go abroad for treatment.
“If what you are going for can be done in Nigeria we would not spend public money. However, we must also recognise the individual rights of human beings. If you have your own money you are free to seek medical care anywhere,” he said.
Onyebuchi also urged Nigerians to take advantage of the National Health Insurance Policy which he said should be made compulsory by all employers of labour for their employees, noting that the country’s health sector had tremendously improved and there was need to encourage local practitioners.
He said for more than 10 years, no Nigerian hospital could perform an open heart surgery but that in the last one year, two hospitals, the University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan and the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Enugu, have successfully accomplished this feat.