The House of Representatives has approved an amendment to the National Health Act (NHA 2014) which will ban foreign medical travel by public officials.
The bill titled – “A bill for an Act to amend the National Health Act to regulate and prohibit International medical trip by public servants” – passed for second reading.
The sponsor of the bill, Hon. Sergius Ogun (Edo, PDP), said that the bill will reverse the foreign exchange loss as a result of medical tourism in the country. He estimated that about 5000 citizens fly overseas for medical reasons and listed the biggest beneficiary as India.
Exceptions: The bill provides that only serious health issues that cannot be attended to in Nigeria will be permitted and that an approval must be granted by the Health Minister.
The Big Picture: Nigeria spends an estimated $1bn on foreign medical care according to the NSIA.
The reasons include lack of infrastructure and healthcare facilities and the increasing rate of medical professionals who are emigrating. A survey by the NOI polls recently showed that at least 8 of 10 Nigerian Doctors are seeking work opportunities abroad.
It has become common sight to see present and former public officials go abroad even for standard medical checkups, a signal of the increasing lack of trust in the Nigerian healthcare sector. The most recent example is President Muhammadu Buhari who spent months outside the country on medical tourism. The original NHA 2014, is yet to be fully implemented as the mandatory Basic Healthcare Provision Fund, which mandates the allocation of 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) to provide funding for the health sector is not yet in place.
Support: Rep. Johnson Agbonayinma, a member from Edo, APC said the bill will provide the incentive for public officials to fix the healthcare sector. According to him, if public servants can’t travel to seek healthcare then they would ensure the sector is properly funded to ensure availability of world class equipment and facilities.
Opposition: Rep. Nnena Elendu Ukeje of the PDP, representing Abia state argued against the bill. She held that the bill infringes on the individual rights of public servants.