Curbing political office holders’ medical tourism



The Senate, last week, took a trip into the unusual, when it asked officials of the State House to ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari and other Presidency officials did not travel abroad for medical treatment.


The directive came when the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs met with the State House Permanent Secretary, Tijani Umar, who came to defend the 2021 Budget of the unit.


Umar presented a budget of N19.7 billion for 2021, which had N1.3 billion proposed for the State House Clinic. Chairman of the Committee, Senator Danjuma La’ah, said that the committee would approve the budget for the State House Clinic, but with a caveat that the President and other top officials of his government should stop going abroad for medical treatment.


He said: “Our President is not a man to be taken out anytime on sickness matter. “He must attend our clinic here and we must make sure that we equip our hospital to the best of our ability, so that any emergency will be first taken care of here before flying out if the need arises.” The Permanent Secretary was to tell journalists later that the money was not enough for the State House Clinic.


According to him, “The N1.3 billion is absolutely inadequate when you juxtapose the amount proposed and the labour – the status of the principals that project is going to serve. When you compare with worldwide standards, you see that it is not anything near what we need.”


There is no gainsaying that even if it is the mere perfunctory statements associated with politicians, the Senate was right on the order. For long, Nigerians have not seen any value for the annual budget allocation to the Aso Rock Clinic since its inception.


The lack of service of the clinic is more visible with the presidency of Buhari, where the president and his family have resorted to travelling abroad and seeking services in private clinics when they fell sick. We recall that the wife of the President, Aisha, had in 2017 criticised the State House Clinic for its poor services and lack of necessities despite the annual budget allocated to it every year.


That was few days after her daughter, Zahra, had spoken on the same issue. The President’s daughter had chided the then Permanent Secretary of the State House, Jalal Arabi, for his inability to provide common drugs to the clinic despite a budget of N3 billion for the provision of drugs to the hospital.


But speaking later at a Reproductive, Maternal, Nutrition, Child Advocacy and Health and Nutrition (RMNCAH+N) in Abuja, the First Lady said when she fell ill and was advised to travel to London for treatment, but refused. “I called the Aso Clinic to find out if they have an X-Ray machine, they said it’s not working. In the end, I had to go to a hospital owned and operated by foreigners 100 per cent.


“There is a budget for the hospital and if you go there now, you will see a number of constructions going on, but they don’t have a single syringe there. What is the purpose of the buildings if there are no equipment there to work with? “You can imagine what happens across the states to governors’ wives if this will happen to me in Abuja,” the First Lady had said.


Since he came to office in 2015, Buhari has visited hospitals in the United Kingdom. Much as we agree that the president is human and can fall sick like others, we do not understand why the Aso Rock Clinic cannot act as the first port of call for the treatment of the first family, when they are sick.


We recall that the president’s son was also treated in a private medical facility when he was involved in a bike accident. But we are worried that it is not only the president that is guilty of foreign medical tourism.


From the senators to the governors, it is a status symbol to travel abroad for the least of illnesses. Hence, the hospitals, from the primary healthcare centres to the tertiary ones in the country are all underperforming, ill equipped and not worthy to treat political office holders.

That is where the problem lies. It is not about State House clinic alone. It is about the entirety of the nation’s health system, which have been allowed to rot like other parts of the nation. At least, the Coronavirus pandemic made us see that the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump and his British counterpart, Boris Johnson were treated at their government hospitals when they were infected.


That is also the case with other presidents and leaders across the world, who were down with one illness or the other. They made do with hospitals in their homes. That is the way to go. We believe, therefore, that the Senate and other legislative houses in the country owe a duty to tame political leaders to pay more attention to hospitals in Nigeria.


The year 2020 taught us that we cannot always travel abroad for medical treatments. We hope we don’t learn more in a bitter way.


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