Just like other basic amenities, good healthcare has been an unaffordable and inaccessible luxury for most Africans.
Many African leaders have neglected their country’s health system for years. And this explains the poor conditions of facilities across the continent. The year-long negligence has left the health sectors in many African countries in a sorry state. Many hospitals lack basic facilities such as beds and personal protective equipment (PPE).
For this reason, African leaders don’t have faith in the system they provide and oversee. This explains why they and their families fly abroad for even the most basic medical treatment. Apart from a very few countries, such as South Africa, which has been improving its health sector, it is hard to find the state of the art medical facilities in many African countries.
Health tourism has become a common trend among several African leaders. Many past and present presidents have shown that they prefer overseas to local health care. Presidents Ali Bongo of Gabon, Patrice Talon of Benin Republic, current Ghanaian vice president Dr Mahamudu Bawumia and finace minister Ken Ofori Atta, former presidents Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola are other African leaders known for this practice.
Other African past leaders who died while seeking medical treatment abroad include two Zambia’s presidents Levy Mwanawasa 2008 in France and Michael Sata 2014 in Britain, Gabon’s Omar Bongo December 2009 in Spain, and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi August 2012 in Belgium.
In the past few days, Nigerian social media has been awash with stories about President Muhammadu Buhari’s medical trip to London. Agitations continue to get rife daily as people call on the 78-year-old leader to return home and fix his country’s poor health system instead of seeking medical attention overseas.
The continent loses a huge amount of money to this high rate of health tourism. For example, Nigerians spend $200 on health tourism every year to India alone, and their overall annual medical tourism spending is estimated to be $1 billion. In 2016, findings showed that Africans spent a whopping $6 billion seeking healthcare abroad. Medical tourism is a luxury that can only be enjoyed by few people.
Those suffering the greatest burden of this year-long negligence of Africa’s healthcare are its citizens, most of whom are low-income earners. They are left with no choice but to use the deplorable facilities at home while their leaders get the best care abroad.
Consequently, the effects of these disappointing practice include high child and maternal mortality rate, high cases of infectious diseases, and low life expectancy, which have become perennial challenges across the continent. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, malaria still accounts for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Africa, and most of these deaths are in children ages 5 and below.
The continent is also home to countries with the lowest-ranked life expectancy. On the global ranking, The system also experiences a shortage of medical professionals.
Poor infrastructure is another problem in the system. In 2019, there were reports of bare-handed surgeries by physicians in Zimbabwe because of the nonavailability of gloves. At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there were reports of ventilators shortage across various African health facilities, and this further revealed the year-long rot in the system.
On top of that, many of the few available professionals migrate daily to Europe, the Americas, and Asia in search of greener pasture, as the condition at home is anything but favourable to healthcare workers.
It is high time African leaders started getting their priorities right and improve their countries’ healthcare. They also need to stop galivanting across various overseas health facilities and use the same system their citizens use. There must be a significant improvement in the continent’s healthcare funding to bridge the gap that has left the system in critical condition. This will restore people’s faith in Africa’s healthcare and reduce the high volume of medical tourism.