By Chioma Obinna
Today in Nigeria, the sorry state of the country’s health care system has left many Nigerians with the option of seeking medical treatment overseas. The reason is not far-fetched as majority of them have lost hope in the health care delivery of the country. The decision to go abroad is predicated on the conviction that, hospitals in the choice country are better equipped for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
It is no longer news that Nigerian doctors rank shoulder to shoulder with their counterparts in these countries. Infact, available record showed that Nigerian trained doctors are in large numbers practicing in most hospitals abroad, where they give good accounts of themselves. And this has promoted brain drain in the country.
Most of these doctors go abroad in order to get expose to modern medical equipment, which are lacking in Nigerian hospitals. Apart from the public hospitals that can boast of some of such equipment, only a handful of private hospitals have some of the necessary modern equipment.
In the last 15 years, there has been growth of private sector health organisations and 60 per cent of the country’s health services are provided by the private sector, making it a key entry point. Large role played by the private sector in health care delivery creates the need for standard and best practice and therefore to challenge medical tourism, private sector players need to improve on standard. On the current state of health care in Nigeria, a country with 170 million populations, a 2.8 per cent growth in the health sector is far from achieving the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.
Again, Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality ratio, estimated at 545 maternal deaths per 100, 000 live births, while under five mortality rate is 157 per 100, 000 live births. In 2012, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV, prevalence rate among adults (18-49 years) is 3.1 per cent, as the country has second largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, while 47 per cent of health facilities are not regulatory radars.
In 2013, 18 000 Nigerians travelled to India for medical purposes and are reported to have spent N14.6 billion. Nigeria Ministry of Health spends about 70 per cent of its budget in urban areas where 30 per cent of the population resides.
According to a Consultant Paediatrician and General Practitioner, Dr. Ngozi Onyia, improvement in standards in the health sector requires significant capital investment. To her, the health care sector lacks access to capital, as only nine per cent are taking loans. Onyia however proffers reasons for why health providers do not have access to capital in form of loans and grants. According to her, most health care organizations do not operate in the same environment as any other businesses; most of them operate as family outfit without having account department or being subjected to auditing. She said they need to be profitable to repay loans extended by financial institutions, stressing that banks as lenders to health care organizations are also taking risks with depositors’ funds, hence the need to reduce the risk involved.
However, to break the barriers in the health care organisations access to loans, Diamond bank plc, one f the leading retail bank in Nigeria launched a new product, ‘Diamond MediLoanQualityCare’, designed to provide loan facilities for improved healthcare delivery in the country. It is a partnership with SafeCare, a medical advisory and standards organisation.
The product, recently launched in Lagos, will afford operators of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, laboratories, diagnostic centre and other medical establishments the opportunity to access loan facility from the Bank to acquire medical equipment, fixed assets and to undertake the renovation and expansion of existing facilities in order to deliver efficient and qualitative service to their clients. The product has four different tiers of financing, ranging from N200, 000 to N56 million.
At the launch, Mr. Deputy Managing Director, Diamond Bank Plc, Mr. Uzoma Dozie noted that the Bank took keen interest in the health sector due to the strategic importance that good health plays in the overall wellbeing of man.
He said: “For any nation to develop, three things are very critical and important; education, health and food. Citizens, particularly the workforce must be educated, healthy and well-fed. If the workforce lacks any of the three, they can’t be competitive and if they are not, the country can’t develop. That’s the reason we are addressing the problem of financing in the health sector. Through this newly launched product, health practitioners would have access to finance to purchase necessary equipment so they could provide affordable and qualitative services.”
Dozie noted that the country loses millions of dollars annually to foreign countries with better healthcare facilities through medical tourism. He argued that this unwholesome trend would be addressed with the new product.
“Health statistics has revealed that Nigeria has estimated 545 maternal deaths per 100,000 births and over 18,000 Nigerians travelled to India in 2013 for medical purposes and spent over N41.6billion naira. When hospitals in Nigeria have the necessary medical equipment, patients would have no need to travel abroad to seek medical treatment, and in the process lose a lot of money. This new facility will help in this regard and make the services affordable. “ he said.
On behalf of SafeCare, Mr. Uzodinma Osisiogu, said his organisation would serve as the quality control partner for the programme, adding that SafeCare would ensure both the technical and business competence of applicants before recommending them for the loan.
“The application process would be thorough so that only competent ones would access the loan. The technical aspect is vital as well as the financials. We will look at their record keeping processes also. After securing the loan, we would ensure compliance with terms and insist in delivering the promised quality of service because that is the basis of the loan
“Providing quality healthcare is no longer an option; it is the way to go. It confers a competitive advantage on the provider,” he added. This facility, which is available in Lagos currently, will be extended to other cities namely Ibadan, Enugu, Awka, Owerri and Umuahia soon.