‘Nigeria needs a Bank of Health’
Prof. Michael Ibadin is the former Chief Medical Director, University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH). In this interview, the Professor of Pediatrics spoke on the need to structure the country’s health system to attract investors, the need for Bank of Health like Bank of Industry, and how to tackle medical tourism, among others. people especially politicians with certain ailments believe that their confidentiality would be better maintained abroad. And because of the desire for anything foreign, a lot of people would rather go abroad for treatment even when we have all the facilities to take care of their ailments here.
But we can reduce the number of persons travelling abroad for frivolous medical attention, by knowing what can be treated here. To do this, we have to create a Central Clearing Body under the Ministry of Health so that anybody going abroad for treatment must have some forms of certification from the body no matter the urgency. For instance, if any one applied to go for treatment abroad, such persons should be screened to know whether such conditions can be treated here and if it can be handled, the body would call such hospital and send the patient there.
And if the person insists, he or she has to bear the cost through tax.
There must be a paradigm shift in the way we look at health. Now, we look at health as social service and that would not attract investors because no one wants to put fund in social funding where the return is marginal.
Government should replicate what it did in agriculture that makes it attractive to investors to health sector. We can make it a policy not to register oneman clinics or hospitals but a minimum of four or five people
Brain drain is one of the reasons for shortage of man power in hospitals, how can the problem be addressed?
Brain drain is not particular to doctors. As long as there is huge difference between earning in Nigeria and abroad, people will move for greener pasture. What is really responsible is the condition of service, if the condition of service here is comparable to what obtains there, people would stay. There is huge difference in terms of working environment, welfare package, facilities to work with and remuneration. If a doctor is earning N500, 000, it is equivalent to £1,000 and £1,000 is earned by ordinary heath workers in Europe.
What tourism? encourages medical
One of the factors that encourage medical tourism is lack of facilities for diagnosis compared to what we have abroad. There are some ailments that cannot be diagnosed here, not because the medical personnel are not here but because the equipment to do it is not here. So, they prefer to go there.
Also, the equipment there are more robust and would likely give precise results than the ones here. Again, there are specific treatments that may not be readily available here.
Another reason is that whether the treatment is available here, of different specialties who pull resources together to float a full hospital, then, government can now come in by way of giving soft loans.
If we have to achieve better healthcare delivery, the same way we have Bank of Industry and Agriculture, we should also have a Bank for Health where those who establish hospital can go and obtain loans at four percent interest to equip the hospital.
There is an allegation that patients at UBTH are referred to private laboratories for tests by doctors. What is your reaction to this?
We have a very robust laboratory and versatile equipment, but you can't rule out human factors because the way we have proliferation of clinics, we also have proliferation of laboratories by the some people who are working for government.
If he is on duty at night and he knows that nobody is watching him while his laboratory is nearby, he can tell the patient that the test is not available in the hospital and direct patients to his laboratory.
Abroad, an average white man is honest but the revise is the case here, it is not as if you don't have fraudulent people there but they are in minority but here dishonest people are the majority. So, when you give them the challenge, they are likely to divert patients away from the hospital.
I can assure you that any test that can't be done in UBTH cannot also be done in any private clinic or laboratory, because our equipment are quite expensive which they can't afford.
Diabetic, hypertension, stroke, eye problems are on the rise in Nigeria. What is responsible for this?
First, the way we live now is completely different from what it used to be. Those days we were closer to nature by eating natural food but now we eat junk and fast food with preservatives.
So it is life style and feeding habit. In the past people would trek to the farm and back home but today nobody wants to do exercise.
A lot of processed foods are now available and chemical substances are used to ripen even agricultural products like mangos, banana, oranges and others fruits, Even palm oil, they add addictive that makes it red. They are not natural and not good for the body. If we want to address this we have to go back to nature and do away with sedentary life style.
How would you describe your tenure which ended some weeks ago?
My tenure was very eventful because we have commissioned many structures like fire service station and built child emergency room, child heath administrative building, mental health ward and administrative building, family health building, digital emergency building, and NHIS building to mention a few. We built some of these structures from revenue generated from within the hospital.
It is the recession that crippled the finances of the hospital. Our capital allocation has not been very good, the highest that we ever got was N355 million but everything was not released that year. Budget performance in terms of capital has ranged between 40 and 60 percent, but we have been able to cope because these structures were tied to clinical area.
Prof. Michael Ibadin