Medical tourism is increasing globally as more people seek high-quality, cost-effective, and specialized healthcare services abroad. According to GlobeNewswire, the global medical tourism market reached a value of $16.19 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach $75 billion by 2032.
Ghana and Turkey are two of the leading destinations for medical tourism in Africa and the world, respectively. They have developed their health sectors to attract patients from Nigeria and other countries, offering a range of services such as fertility treatment, dental care, eye surgery, cosmetic surgery, organ transplantation, and oncology. Ghana has made significant strides in dominating the medical tourism niche market within the sub-region. Meanwhile, Turkey has earned a reputation as a preferred destination for cosmetic surgery, organ transplantation, and oncology. Both countries boast high standards and modern facilities that entice medical tourists.
Now, Ghana and Turkey are vying for a piece of Nigeria’s medical tourism market by offering a range of curative and preventive procedures, modern facilities, improved technology, and highly skilled multi-specialists. At this year’s Akwaaba Travel Market, an international travel, tourism and hospitality event that attracts various countries and sectors of the travel industry, Turkey’s medical chapter, the Ankara Chamber, forged a partnership with the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This partnership holds the promise of creating over one million jobs in the healthcare and infrastructure delivery system.
According to the Nigerian Medical Association, Nigeria loses about $1 billion annually to medical tourism, which is equivalent to about 20 per cent of the country’s health budget. One of the main reasons why many Nigerians prefer to travel abroad for medical treatment is the cost factor. The cost of medical care in Nigeria is often high and unpredictable, due to the lack of health insurance coverage, the prevalence of out-of-pocket payments, and the frequent inflation of prices by health providers. According to a survey by NOIPolls, 82 per cent of Nigerians who travelled abroad for medical treatment cited cost as a significant factor influencing their decision. The survey also found that 93 per cent of Nigerians who travelled abroad for medical treatment paid out-of-pocket, while only five per cent had health insurance.
Another compelling reason for Nigerians seeking medical care abroad is the issue of subpar quality within the country. The quality of medical care in Nigeria is often low and unreliable due to shortages of qualified health workers, inadequate infrastructure and equipment, and lax regulation and accreditation of healthcare facilities. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Nigeria is one of the three leading African sources of foreign-born physicians. The Nigeria Medical Association, also reported that no fewer than 50 medical doctors leave Nigeria weekly searching for greener pastures abroad. This exodus of healthcare professionals has led to a decline in the quality of healthcare services, as evidenced by the WHO’s statistic that Nigeria has only 0.4 physicians per 1,000 population, compared to 1.2 in Ghana and 1.8 in Turkey.
Moreover, Nigeria has only one hospital accredited by the Joint Commission International, which is a global standard for quality and safety in health care, compared to six in Ghana and 54 in Turkey. Nigeria has only 0.9 hospital beds per 1,000 population, compared to 1.3 in Ghana and 2.7 in Turkey. Accessibility to medical care in Nigeria is further hampered by the uneven distribution of healthcare facilities and services across regions and states, compounded by frequent strikes and industrial actions by healthcare workers. In contrast, Ghana and Turkey offer better options for medical tourists in terms of cost, quality, availability, and accessibility.
However, the gaps in Nigeria’s healthcare system present opportunities for health tech innovations. Healthtech startups have the potential to address the unmet needs and challenges within the healthcare sector. Despite challenges, Nigeria already boasts promising health tech startups tackling various aspects of the healthcare system. Reliance Health, a digital healthcare company, offers online consultations, prescriptions, referrals, lab tests, and home care services. Additionally, Helium Health, a health tech firm, provides a suite of solutions for hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, labs, and patients. In 2021, health tech and biotech startups raised an impressive $392 million in funding, an 81 per cent increase from the $110 million raised in 2020. Nigeria can leverage its strengths and potentials, such as its large population, rich culture, natural resources, and diverse medical needs, to reduce the dependence on foreign health care.