There is an African idiom that if a man does not eat at home, he may never give his wife enough money to cook a good pot of soup.
This might just be true when applied to politicians on the continent seeking medical help anywhere but home.
Africa’s public health systems are in a depressing condition.
Preventable diseases still kill a large number of women and children, people travel long distances to receive health care, and across the continent patients sleep on hospital floors.
On top of this, Africa’s health professionals emigrate in droves to search for greener pastures.
It’s therefore not surprising that people from Africa travel abroad – mainly to Europe, North America and Asia – for their medical needs.
In 2016, Africans spent over USD$6 billion on outbound treatment.
Nigeria is a major contributor.
Its citizens spend over USD$1 billion annually on what’s become known as medical tourism.
It can be argued that private citizens opting to seek medical help in other countries don’t owe the public any explanation, because it’s their own affair.
But medical tourism among Africa’s political elite is a completely different kettle of fish and a big cause for concern, because they are responsible for the development of proper health care for the citizens of their countries.
It’s well documented that politicians from across the continent go abroad for medical treatment.
The reasons for exercising this choice are obvious: they lack confidence in the health systems they oversee, and they can afford the trips given that the expenses are paid for by taxpayers.
The result is that they have little motivation to change the status quo.
Medical tourism by African leaders and politicians could therefore be one of the salient but overlooked causes of Africa’s poor health systems and infrastructure.
Since the beginning of 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has spent more time in the UK for medical treatment than he has in his own country.
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