Monday, June 06, 2005

Medical tourism in Nigeria

Update July 11, 2005
Via CBS News:
"Summertime. It’s almost upon us. Millions will be heading out to foreign lands for vacation, adventure, tourism, or just a beautiful beach. But how about hip surgery or a multiple bypass or a facelift?

A growing number of tourists are doing just that: combining holidays with health care. And that’s because a growing number of countries are offering first-rate medical care at third-world prices..."
Read more

I read an online article (India: First Software, Now Surgery) a while back on Bloomberg Markets about how India has succeeded in enticing foreigners to visit the country for medical treatment (unfortunately the article is no longer on online). The article projected that Health care for foreign patients will deliver 100 billion rupees ($2.3 billion) a year to India’s hospitals by 2012. The concept of medical and health tourism is not new (google “medical tourism”), but I found this particular article intriguing and inspiring, and I couldn’t help but wonder why the concept can’t be replicated in Nigeria. Yes, boost the economy by offering cheap and technologically sound health care to overseas patients. You’re probably wondering I must live in la-la world, never mind, I do chuckle repeatedly to myself whenever I ponder over this idea

Nigeria has a lot in common with India: comparable climate, widespread corruption, multilingual and multiethnic populace, pool of expert physicians, impoverished citizenry, limited infrastructures, etc. India is at least four times the population size of Nigeria, and lacks the much-coveted black gold, oil, in the same abundance as Nigeria. But it has been able to harness and develop its technology base, therefore becoming the out-sourcing Mecca for many western companies. Nigeria is seriously deficient in this regard.

Despite these hurdles, about 100,000 patients travel to the India every year- a 100 percent increase from 5 years back- to receive care for ailments ranging from hip resurfacing to complex heart surgery. How can these patient look beyond “a decrepit airport and filthy streets” and chose India for medical care? The answer is price- “Indian hospitals are cheap option where patients get the same quality they are used to in their home country” the article stated. Bypass surgery cost less than one tenth of the US price. In addition to receiving top-quality care, patients are lavishly catered for right from the airport to the time they depart.

According to World Health Organization, Indian spends about 6% of its GDP on health care and lags behind Brazil, Thailand and South Korea- other developing nations. Many of its nationals are without health insurance, and life expectancy in India is 61 years compared about 68.9 years in Brazil. Infant death rate per 1,000 births is 87.5 in India compared to 35.1 in Brazil. Life expectancy and infant death rate in the US is 77.3 years, and 8 per 1000 births, respectively. So where is the justification for this huge investment in treating foreign patients?

High salary of specialist-physicians account for a significant portion of medical cost in the US, whereas doctors in India earn significantly less, thus India can afford to offer relatively cheaper treatment. The combination of cheap labor, lower fees and differential pricing enable hospitals to make money to treat the poor in India. Just plain and simple economics! Can these be replicated in Nigeria? Absolutely! This can be achieved with adequate financing and the willingness of Nigerian specialist doctors to return home. All the docs mentioned in the article were US-trained; in fact they initiated the concept.