Nigeria would have lost at least 500 million dollars to medical tourism this year but for restrictions on foreign travels due to COVID-19, a lawmaker has said.
Tanko Sununu, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services, said thousands of Nigerians could not jet out of the country in search of medical care due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Mr Sununu, a laparoscopic surgeon, said this on Tuesday while making a presentation at a roundtable on health security policy and finance.
The event was organised by the Legislative Initiative for Sustainable Development (LISDEL) in Abuja.
It is estimated that Nigeria loses about one billion dollars annually on medical tourism as almost 500 Nigerians go abroad monthly to seek medical intervention.
But with flights grounded and countries across the world on lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many Nigerians, including the political elite, were forced to use the Nigerian hospitals.
For almost six months, Nigeria skies were shut against international flights after President Muhammdu Buhari placed a ban on foreign travels in March as the struggle to contain the spread of the deadly virus intensified.
The ban was lifted only a few days ago and the first international flight landed at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos on Saturday.
Even before COVID-19, many of Nigeria’s key health interventions — including on polio eradication, vaccination programmes, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and maternal and child health — remain almost entirely dependent on foreign donors, with the government committing less than $10 per citizen to health under its current budget.
But as a result of the economic downturn caused by weeks of lockdown, many of those donor funds are no longer coming as every country faces its own COVID-19 nightmare.
“When you look at the six months’ period that the ban was in place, about 500 million dollars that would have been lost to medical tourism was saved because nobody is traveling out for medical care,” the lawmaker said.