Compassus staffer picked for South Africa healthcare mission

Compassus staffer picked for South Africa healthcare mission

Compassus has selected Kammy Heuett, of Lakeside, to join a team of medical volunteers to assist Living Hope, the company’s sister hospice program in Cape Town, South Africa.

Her mission trip began Aug. 12 and will end Aug. 20.

The Compassus team, which includes two physicians, five registered nurses, two certified nursing assistants, a social worker, volunteer coordinator and chaplain, spent a week in Cape Town educating and assisting the Living Hope staff.

“I am most looking forward to an increased awareness of the suffering throughout South Africa, which I can reconcile within my own culture,” Heuett, director of clinical services for Compassus-Lakeside, said about her opportunity to participate. “I hope to spread the knowledge of our similarities instead of our differences and to teach that suffering is not unique to South Africa, rather it is how we as a patient, family or community choose to respond to suffering that makes us different.”

Through a partnership started in 2011, Compassus donates monetary aid, medical supplies and health care expertise to support Living Hope’s health care and hospice services in the impoverished township communities of Cape Town.

Living Hope, a ministry-based nonprofit, offers health care services, counseling and education to more than 200,000 underprivileged residents. Living Hope’s programs focus on improving general health and hospice care, HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and economic empowerment. Living Hope provides healthcare for more than 36,000 South Africans annually through in-home visits, medical clinics and a 22-bed inpatient hospice center.

Compassus supports Living Hope in three ways: funding, education and hands-on medical assistance. The company matches voluntary employee donations to the dollar every year and also assists Living Hope with necessary medical supplies and equipment.

“As members of the hospice team, we have a calling to deliver compassionate care not only in our local communities, but also to those around the world. This partnership allows us the opportunity to do both,” said Debra Brackey, executive director of Compassus-Lakeside. “We are proud of Kammy and her fellow volunteers for embarking on this journey to help the sick and impoverished people of South Africa, and look forward to hearing about their experiences and how we can use what they learned on their trip here at home.”

Medical Exercise in Cameroon Enhances Army Readiness

Medical Exercise in Cameroon Enhances Army Readiness

As the sun begins to peek over the horizon, a 10-person Army medical team from the 212th Combat Support Hospital makes its way through the thick morning fog at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, mostly in silence. Some of the team members boarding the waiting C-130 Hercules aircraft have already been to the African continent, but for most, this is their first real Army mission and first time going to Africa.

“I’m nervous. A new place, new people, something different — it always gives me a bit of anxiety,” said Army Spc. Kess Houck, an operating room technician with the 212th CSH, taking in her surroundings right after touching down Aug. 5 at the military airstrip here. The team was supporting U.S. Army Africa-led Medical Readiness Training Exercise 17-5, which was held at the Military Hospital of Garoua. This exercise was the fifth and final such exercise in the 2017 series.

Unlike previous iterations this year that U.S. Army Africa facilitated on the African continent, this one allows the team to live on an established contingency location and work in northern Cameroon, outside of the partnered country’s capital. The lodging placed the soldiers in a field setting and simulated a deployed environment. For the team, field life is familiar.

“We spend a lot of time in the field, working as a unit and setting up a combat support hospital that is able to perform surgeries in no more than 72 hours,” said Army Capt. Charmayne Pope, an operations officer for MEDRETE 17-5 and a company commander for the 212th CSH. “That’s the mission of a CSH. We are a tailorable rapidly deployable surgical treatment facility with inpatient capacity.”

Setting Up

Landing on an airstrip, the group took in the difference in terrain and temperature. Escorted off the flight line by members of the local U.S. task force and transported to a green tent with six cots lining each side, each team member methodically chose their personal spaces for the next two weeks. Assessing how to make the tight quarters more functional, some strung up 550 cord, a versatile 7-strand nylon paracord, while others put up “privacy walls’ to accommodate the mixed-gender living conditions.

While setting up their lodging is a familiar task for members of this unit, they were not required to set up their own hospital facility in an austere environment. This exercise enabled them to work at a partnered nation’s established and alternatively resourced medical facility, shoulder to shoulder with their Cameroonian counterparts.

The U.S. group, ranging in age, gender and professional skill level, was equipped with a full surgical and emergency medical team supported by administrative personnel. The experienced personnel balanced the neophytes and increased the training possibilities available to the team. Each junior professional paired up with senior team members throughout the exercise, and the twosome then partnered with Cameroonian medical staff.

Skilled, but less experienced team members were deliberately chosen to participate because of their potential to positively influence the future of their career field, Pope said.

“We invested in the Army’s future. We chose certain people to allow them to continue growing in their field,” she added.

Establishing Relationships

Being the first MEDRETE U.S. Army Africa has facilitated in this region, the team concentrated on establishing professional and personal relationships with their Cameroonian counterparts to set the stage for future collaborations. Throughout the two-week exercise, the team rotated personnel through the different areas of the hospital — emergency room, operating room, patient wards and clinics — to offer them a deeper understanding of the processes and an opportunity to interact with all the Cameroonian army medical staff.

The MEDRETE team’s junior medic was able to observe a routine surgery the U.S. surgical team and their Cameroonian counterparts performed together. The young soldier entered the operating room wearing borrowed green scrubs and watched as the surgeons and technicians worked together.

“It was my first time in an actual operating room,” Army Pfc. Jason Macha said. “Watching our team members partner with the Cameroonian staff was very interesting to watch. I didn’t realize how tedious surgery was, and it was an opportunity I was glad to have.”

More seasoned members of the team also witnessed things they hadn’t seen before. Emergency room physician Army Maj. (Dr.) Warren Johnson, who is 10 years into his career, saw two separate pathologies that he hasn’t witnessed before: bilateral kidney stones severe enough to cause renal obstruction and gestational transfer of malaria.

“A mission like this opens eyes,” Pope said. “It exposes my medical personnel to different environments, allowing them to see treatment of patients with different techniques, with less equipment, and challenges them to provide the same level of care with less.”

The gained knowledge of different treatment processes and exposure to an alternatively resourced environment benefits the American soldiers in their individual medical capacities, said Army Capt. Matthew Veith, a critical care nurse..

“[The exercise] has offered our team the chance to gain knowledge on how our allies and partners do business,” he added. “There are some obvious differences and some obvious challenges. … I was honored to be a part of this mission, and working with their team only strengthens the Army medical capabilities and readiness in the future.”

S.A. Expressed the Importance of Local Doctors Studying in Cuba

S.A. Expressed the Importance of Local Doctors Studying in Cuba

A public health official in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal expressed today the importance of local doctors studying in Cuba in promoting government plans for universal and quality medical care in this country.

According to Sikongiseni Dlomo, head of Health in that province, the experience of South African doctors trained in Cuba will be crucial in boosting the National Insurance plan.

In a meeting with about 300 youngsters who are studying medicine and are in South Africa on vacation, Dlomo told them about the practical experiences they have gained while working in public hospitals during their stay in their homeland.

It is important to value their training in Cuba, which is oriented towards primary health care, which is what we need to make this program succeed, commented the director, after praising the way in which the future doctors prepared in Cuba have responded.

State help for Pondoland’s green fingers

State help for Pondoland’s green fingers

Cannabis has been produced as a cash crop in the Eastern Cape’s Pondoland villages for decades. It is the livelihood for many households in these villages.

Depending on the yield and on its quality, some farmers can make an estimated income of R40 000 to R60 000 from these crops each year, according to a report in the Sunday Times last year.

Although the use of cannabis remains illegal in South Africa, a ruling by the Western Cape High Court earlier this year allowing the private use of cannabis could point to a relaxation of these laws in the near future.

Some commentators have indicated that lobbying for cannabis decriminalisation may not yield positive results for poor Pondoland villages. In fact, an increased supply may result in the lowering of prices as the illegality of cannabis is believed to keep the prices high.

However, this remains to be seen as the economy has drastically increased in places where cannabis has been legalised.

For instance, in Colorado, a western US state, since the decriminalisation of cannabis, unemployment has been drastically reduced. Before cannabis was legalised, Colorado’s unemployment rate was 7.7%. However, recent statistics show an unemployment rate of only 3.2%.

Additionally, the cannabis industry has generated $1.3-billion (R17.3-billion) in profit and $200-million (R2.7-billion) in tax revenue.

The question of whether to legalise the use of cannabis and its products has been debated around the world for decades. Scientific evidence demonstrates there are significant benefits associated with the medical use of cannabis products.

There are several cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs which either contain or have similar chemicals to those found in marijuana plants. Although some of these drugs have not yet been accepted in this country, some are already available on European and American markets. For instance, Sativex and Nabilone which are manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals and Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, respectively, are some of the cannabis-based drugs approved in the UK, US and Denmark.

Nabiximols, a drug made from an extract obtained from the whole cannabis plant, is available in Canada to control pain linked to cancer. The same drug is now undergoing clinical trials in the US.

In South Africa, although cannabis is illegal, a couple of cannabis products have appeared on the market. These include cannabis oil that allegedly help control cancer linked pain.

Due to the beneficial effects of cannabis, the Department of Health will be releasing the guidelines for medical use of marijuana by the end of the year.

A recent report by Medicine Control Council (MCC) indicates that the medical use of cannabis could be beneficial in instances where other treatments have failed. In fact, the MCC has already allowed the importation of unregistered pharmaceutical products containing cannabinoids for medical use.

The Industrial Development Corporation has also called research proposals from researchers and research institutions to investigate the medical use of cannabis.

If the South African government decides to legalise cannabis for medical purposes, local pharmaceutical companies are going to require reliable suppliers.

Interestingly, in accordance to Medicines and Related Substances Act, 1965 (Act 101 of 1965), the MCC has already set guidelines for the cultivation of cannabis and manufacture of cannabis-based pharmaceutical products for both medical and research purposes.

These guidelines set standards for the production of cannabis and also identify the critical production steps to ensure a reliable and reproducible quality of the product.

Notably, in terms of the provisions of Sections 22C (1)(b) of the Medicines Act, cannabis farmers are required to apply to the MCC for a licence. Farmers must also, in terms of Section 22A (9)(a)(i) of the Act, apply to the director-general of health for a permit to produce and supply cannabis.

These regulations are designed to help control the amount of cannabis produced in the local market and to prevent the diversion of cannabis to the illicit market. This is in line with the international commitment to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to which South Africa is a signatory.

Another guideline includes the training of personnel appointed to oversee the growing of cannabis.

Strict policies and strong security measures for the cannabis fields are critical for the MCC and the Department of Health to even consider issuing the necessary licence and permit. Failing to follow the security requirements can also easily lead to the withdrawal of the licence and permit by the authorities.

Clearly, the standards set by the MCC and Department of Health will be hard to achieve by those in the poor Pondoland villages without the support of the government.

I therefore call for the MEC of the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform Mlibo Qoboshiyane to ensure that the Pondoland villages are not left behind in developing this important resource.

Such assistant will obviously include training and funding for the establishment of well-secured cannabis facilities.

The Eastern Cape government should set guidelines on how these farmers can be assisted to ensure they make a meaningful contribution to the growing economy.

Considering the current debate on how expensive pharmaceutical drugs are in South Africa, Pondoland’s villages could play an important role in producing and supplying highly affordable but quality raw material and thereby leading to reduction of drug prices.

At the Southern African Trade and Investment Hub, Tinashe Kapuya indicated that “monopolies are not desirables, as they lead to an inefficient price discovery, which in turn leads to companies charging more than prevailing market prices”.

Pondoland has, for decades, been known as the “headquarters” of cannabis production in the Eastern Cape.

And indeed, we have witnessed their cannabis fields being destroyed by police and the use of the Monsanto, weed-killer Roundup.

If the Eastern Cape government is serious about eradicating poverty and bringing radical economic transformation, helping Pondoland villages to obtain licences and permits for controlled cannabis production for medical purposes will be a progressive move.

It will allow the poor communities to participate in the economy and also to be significant stakeholders in the highly lucrative pharmaceutical industry.

Moreover, more jobs will be created and such initiative may indirectly decrease crime.

These are some of the benefits that could be accrued if the Eastern Cape government would play a proactive role regarding cannabis production and the supply of this resource to the pharmaceutical industry.

A month ago the Zimbabwe press reported that the Zimbabwean government is considering decriminalising cannabis to lure investors from Canada who have already applied for permits to produce the herb for medical purposes.

If the Pondoland villages are to out-compete other producers, it is critical that the Eastern Cape government plays a leading role in assisting the farmers.

Holy Trinity SPA Manageress is best in West Africa

Holy Trinity SPA Manageress is best in West Africa

Mrs Diana Mamle Bansah, General Manageress, Holy Trinity and Health Farm, has been adjudged the best Female in Health SPA and Wellness Management at the third Ghana Feminine Awards.

She was said to have brought to bear, rich experiences in spa therapy and management in running Ghana’s first and only medical spa at Sogakope in the Volta Region.

Her introduction of exclusive health and wellness products and services reportedly masterminded the “ascension of wellness facility that attracts people from all over the West African sub-region,” the citation read.

The beauty therapist and fitness instructor told the Ghana News Agency that her passion for beauty and desire to contribute to the promotion of tourism through the provision of “benchmark innovative healthcare by incorporating preventive, curative and rehabilitative complementary and alternative medical practices into orthodox healthcare system” won her the award.

She dedicated the award to staff of Holy Trinity and Health Farm and said the award would motivate the Spa to “lead a global paradigm shift in blissful and proactive healthcare.”

Patient groups welcome release of Draft Intellectual Property Policy

Patient groups welcome release of Draft Intellectual Property Policy

For decades, South African patients have grappled with inaccessible health care services and affordable drugs – even while on medical aid.

Nearly eight years after the South African government committed to reforming the country’s patent laws in 2009, the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), has finally released a new draft Intellectual Property Policy. The move has since been welcomed by 34 patient advocacy groups who make up The Fix the Patent Laws Coalition (FTPL).

The release of the policy has been described as a positive step towards advancing the constitutionally guaranteed right of access to health care services and access to affordable drugs.

“Many people in South Africa continue to die and suffer because they cannot access the medicines that they need,” says Claire Waterhouse, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Access Campaign advocacy officer. “This policy provides hope to those people. It is up to the government to deliver on this promise by swiftly implementing wide-ranging law reform in line with this policy”.

Without these reforms, many medicines for cancer, hepatitis, tuberculosis and mental health in South Africa will remain unaffordable or unavailable in South Africa and people will continue to suffer and die, the Fix the patent LAWS campaign said in a statement.

Entecavir – a chronic medicine to treat hepatitis B – is unavailable in the public sector due to its cost. It is available in the private sector at more than R5 500 per month, while in comparison, it is available in India at R480. Celecoxib – which treats pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis – is 80 percent more expensive in South Africa than India.

Although the FTPL will study in detail the draft policy and make comprehensive comments to assist the dti and partners to implement the reforms, the coalition has shared its preliminary views that strongly support the draft policy.

In particular, the coalition supports the following:
1. We support the implementation of a system of substantive search and examination of patent applications in order to ensure compliance with existing law and to ensure that only applications deserving of patent protection are granted. We agree with the proposed incremental approach, which we submit can be achieved by starting with the pharmaceutical sector and by considering outsourcing of the examination of applications for patents.
2. We support the recommendation to introduce pre- and post-grant opposition procedures in our law. We agree that such procedures are beneficial in that they ensure that the patent examiner has access to relevant information concerning the patent application. Third parties, which could include generic companies and civil society groups, will be able to assist the patent examiner in the decision-making process. We encourage an administratively cost-effective procedure and wide access to information concerning patent applications to enable third parties to intervene. We will make detailed submissions on potential interim procedures to enable such interventions as early as possible.
3. We welcome the commitment to develop patentability criteria in line with the state’s “constitutional obligations, developmental goals and public policy priorities” as well as the intention to utilise available flexibilities to strike the correct balance between promoting innovation and protecting the rights of IP holders and users (patients). We hope that this stated intention will lead to fewer poor quality or ever-greening patents being granted in South Africa and that instead only true innovations will be rewarded with patent protection.
4.We support the recommendations to introduce non-judicial, cost effective and expeditious mechanisms to obtain medicines through the issuance of compulsory licences. In this regard, we support the recommendation to remove the requirement that a government department first negotiate terms of a licence before approaching a court to seek a compulsory licence. This is not required by the TRIPS Agreement and should be removed through the necessary amendments to the Patents Act.

Set for new medical frontline

Set for new medical frontline

From the narrow streets of bicycle-riding Amsterdam to the wide and worn pothole-riddled roads of Flagstaff, two Dutch doctors have chosen to settle where even few locals would want to.

Doctors Stephan Bontekoe and Quirine Huijgen – 32 and 31 respectively – have forsaken lives of luxury in the Netherlands to serve people in rural Eastern Cape instead.

As a young child, Huijgen had aspirations of being a bartender but, after being inspired by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) when she was 15 years old, she elected to tend to the sick and vulnerable instead.

Bontekoe was initially undecided about his career but knew that he wanted to work with people.

Africa became “attractive” for these young doctors when they were in medical school.

Now based at Holy Cross Hospital in Flagstaff, they say they are living their dream.

“We read books and we watch television so we were not surprised to find no wild animals roaming South African streets. But on a serious note, I was pleasantly surprised by the infrastructure of this hospital on arrival because I had spent time in Malawi [prior to arriving in SA] and South Africa is better developed, even though it is a rural hospital,” Bontekoe said.

Bontekoe did a portion of his internship in Malawi while Huijgen did some of her internship in Tanzania.

Holy Cross Hospital is a 180-bed district hospital built by missionaries in 1923.

When comparing the hospital they work in now to the ones back home in Amsterdam, the couple cite several contrasts.

According to them, hospitals in the Netherlands have an average of 300 to 350 beds and there are over 100 doctors employed at each of these. The hospitals have state-of-the-art equipment and in-house specialists.

Holy Cross Hospital with its 180 beds has only four permanent doctors, although there are sessional doctors that work part-time at the hospital.

Of the four permanent doctors, only one is South African – two are Dutch and the third is Cuban.

While South African clinics are nurse-led, Dutch clinics are doctor- led.

“In that regard, South African clinics are ahead of our clinics back home, it is only now that things are beginning to change. Both countries’ healthcare systems have strong primary healthcare and referral systems,” Huijgen said.

Huijgen works mainly in the paediatric ward while Bontekoe works in the maternity and labour wards. They rotate duties in casualty.

Language is a barrier for them because they need to ask someone to translate what their patients are saying. They have learnt Xhosa, Zulu and colloquial words to help them communicate with their patients, to some extent.

They both want to be general practitioners when they return home and Huijgen said the experience they are getting at Holy Cross will help them.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done because there so few of us. Also, there are no X-ray facilities available on weekends and we just have to make do without them as best as we can. We have to rely on our clinical skills here. The skills and expertise we acquire here will improve the kind of doctors we are,” Huijgen said.

“Back home, there are so few HIV cases that they are only dealt with by specialists. But here, the burden of HIV and TB is present everyday in that a third of the patients we see are HIV-positive. That means whenever we are dealing with whatever ailment they have, the HIV is compromising their immune systems,” she explained.

Huijgen has been in South Africa since March 2016 and was joined by Bontekoe in January 2017. What they miss the most from home are Dutch cheese, peanut butter and cookies.

“The South African ones just do not taste the same,” Bontekoe joked.

The couple are unable to go on typical dates like they did when they were back home. Because of their new home, they cannot go for coffee at the local cafe or go to the movies because Flagstaff does not boast such luxuries.

But Huijgen insisted that Flagstaff offered a different kind of luxury for them.

“Our weekends are much cooler and fun here. We can go on safari, we explore places like Mkambati Nature Reserve. Otherwise at home we would simply walk to the park,” she added.

The pair are in South Africa through the efforts of Africa Health Placements (AHP) which focuses on the remote and the most rural parts of South Africa and finds doctors who are then contracted by the national Department of Health.

Both Huijgen and Bontekoe are on three-year contracts.

Through the network of doctors brought into the country by AHP, Bontekoe and Huijgen have friends at Isilimela Hospital in Port St Johns, Zithulele Hospital in Mqanduli and in hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal.

On living and working in an area which even locals would like to escape from, Bontekoe and Huijgen said they felt that the people of Flagstaff deserved great healthcare.

“This community deserves more that what they are getting. They deserve a much fuller team of professionals that want to do more in order to improve their lives,,” Huijgen said.

Bontekoe said: “The living conditions are good. We have access to phones and the internet and we are able to talk to our families every week”.

Holy Cross Hospital has running water and electricity.

To the couple, the South African winter feels like summer back in the Netherlands. They are enthralled by the African sun. The beauty of rolling hills of the green Eastern Cape landscape and wide blue skies consistently persuade them to call Flagstaff home.

First Lady calls on African scientists to deal with health challenges

First Lady calls on African scientists to deal with health challenges

The conference being organised by the Global Emerging Pathologens Treatment Consortium, in collaboration with the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, has brought together researchers, policymakers and experts who work around Ebola and other emerging diseases from Africa and Europe.


Mrs Akufo-Addo emphasised that Africa needed to be innovative, stressing that “innovation is one way of breaking new ground, breaking barriers and doing business away from the beaten path. We must ensure that effective technologies, products and services do indeed reach the millions of people who need them.”

She observed that the continent was faced with increasing incidences of emerging infectious diseases, inadequate health care facilities and shortage of human capacity in medical and allied sciences.

In addition, it is grappling with perennial political instability, food security, nutrition, health care, economic performance and energy, among others.

Obviously, she said, those dynamics posed a challenge to the continent’s capacity to deal with infectious diseases such as Ebola, yellow fever, meningitis and Lassa fever.

“It is even more worrying when, infectious diseases have increasingly become unusual in their magnitude, in the way they spread and in the way they combine with other problems in the environment to present even bigger challenges,” the First Lady said.

African voices

Speaking at the opening session, a former Director of Noguchi, Professor Kwadwo Koram, said: “The loud silence of African voices during the Ebola crises led to the creation of the Global Emerging Pathologens Treatment Consortium, which aimed at bringing health experts on the continent and beyond together to share ideas and find solutions to emerging infectious diseases.

He said the conference would provide the platform for the participants to share experiences and challenges in addressing biosecurity in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak and also to present latest breaking research and collaboration on Ebola diseases and other emerging and infectious diseases in Africa.

A Principal Investigator of the Consortium, Prof. Akin Abayomi, in a presentation, said the world was currently in an era of emerging infectious diseases, which required coordinated international response.

He said a multitude of factors were leading to increasing incidence of infectious diseases and mentioned some as change in demographics and pressure on the environment.

Prof. Abayomi said Africa was expanding at an alarming rate, saying by the end of the century, 40 per cent of the world’s population would be leaving in Africa.

With such a population boom, he stated that inhabitants of major cities in Africa would be faced with biosecurity threats; a situation which he said needed to be addressed before the next 50 years when the African population was estimated to hit 4.2 billion.

African leaders and medical tourism

African leaders and medical tourism

African countries have a lot in common, including a tapestry of shared cultural and economic practices. True, there are numerous relatively distinct ethnic groups across the continent, a shared pattern of social, cultural, and economic practices is discernible.

Equally discernible is the shared pattern of political behaviour and stunted development across the continent. The most frequently identified factors responsible for this situation are poor leadership, weak institutions, governance failure, and endemic corruption.

One of the consequences of these shortcomings is poor health care across the continent. Save for a few private hospitals, whose charges are very high, most hospitals across the continent are poorly funded, under-equipped and poorly staffed. Many hospital laboratories lack the equipment and tools for the most basic lab tests, while their pharmacies run out of basic drugs like pain killers, antibiotics, and anti-malarial medicines.

It is the poor – health care system in Africa that popularised medical tourism – the practice of travelling abroad to obtain medical treatment-on the continent. For Africans, medical tourism destinations include North America, Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, especially India. South Africa is the only known medical tourism destination in Africa.

In 2016 alone, Africans spent well over $6bn on medical tourism, with Nigerians accounting for over $2bn. These could only be conservative estimates as we often do not know how much government officials spend abroad on medical care. What we do know for sure is that the Nigerian federal and state governments spent less than the above amount on health care facilities in 2016. Indeed, the Federal Government’s health budget for 2016 was only about $800m. Worse still, not all of it was released and, of the amount released, a reasonable portion of it must have been misappropriated.

As indicated above, Nigeria is the leading producer of medical tourists in Africa, not simply because Nigeria has the largest population in Africa but also because Nigeria has one of the poorest health care facilities on the continent.

On top of the list of medical tourists from Nigeria are Presidents, governors, legislators, company executives, and their family members. Among the most notorious medical tourists are the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari. After repeated medical visits to Germany, Yar’Adua spent three months in hospital in Saudi Arabia, returning to Nigeria under the cover of darkness, never to be seen in public until he was declared dead on May 5, 2010.

The record of his medical sojourn abroad has now been surpassed by Buhari, who has already spent more than four months in London, receiving medical treatment for an undisclosed illness, and his return date remains undetermined. He says it is left to his doctors. It is this lack of specificity about his return, more than the non-disclosure of his ailment, that has generated the most criticisms, expressed in various commentaries and protests.

Nigerian leaders are, however, not alone in the non-disclosure of their illness nor are they the only African leaders who engage in medical tourism. At least four other African leaders are co-travellers.

Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been President of Angola for the last 38 years, had travelled several times to Spain for medical treatment, again for an undisclosed problem.

Another sit-tight President, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has been in power since 1980, has made three medical trips to Singapore this year alone. His political opponents have accused him of running the country from his “hospital bed” but he says he is going nowhere and he is not dying. He is 93 years old.

In the case of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, his illness is difficult to hide, although its specific cause remains undisclosed. He had a stroke in 2013, which transferred his mobility to a wheelchair. But he has been going to France for medical treatment ever before the stroke occurred, and he has been going there periodically ever since for what his aides describe as medical checkups.

Even the relatively young President Patrice Talon of Benin Republic, who is only 59, has also been engaging in medical tourism to France. The major exception in his case, which his colleagues should emulate, is the full disclosure of his ailments. In June this year, his government disclosed that he went to a hospital in France for two major operations, one on his prostate gland and the other on his digestive system. The reactions of his fellow citizens have been genuine prayers for his recovery.

Medical tourism by African leaders comes at a huge cost to their countries, which the taxpayers have to bear. This explains the agitation for more open disclosure not only of the nature of their illnesses but also the cost of treatment. In the case of President Buhari, the practice of non-disclosure is further complicated by the duration of his treatment and the uncertainty that comes with it. As I once indicated on this column, this has led to the loss of a human angle to the criticisms as the public sympathy for his condition wanes.

Besides the capital flight that goes with medical tourism, the practice is an indictment of the health care system in African countries, most of which rank poorly on the Human Development Index. The involvement of African leaders in medical tourism accentuates this indictment by further undermining the health care system.

There are even bigger problems: One, political leaders may not have the incentive and political will to improve the health care system at home, if they and their families can go abroad for medical treatment.

Two, the deplorable situation in government medical facilities has encouraged brain drain, leading African doctors to go abroad in search of greener pastures. Today, there are Nigerian doctors in virtually every notable hospital across the United States and Europe. Indeed, many Nigerian patients go abroad for treatment, only to be attended to by a Nigerian doctor or nurse.

For Nigerian doctors, who remain to establish their own hospitals and clinics, the outcome has been pathetic. In Akure, Ondo State, for example, a once notable medical landmark, Dairo and Dairo Hospital, had to fold up after several years of operation. When I last interviewed Dr. Tayo Dairo and his wife, Dr. Dupe Dairo, on why they closed down the facility, their response was typical. In a country where nearly 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, private hospitals often have to run at a loss. The situation is worsened by medical tourism as those who can afford to pay prefer to go abroad for treatment.

The question now is what to do to improve the health care facilities at home as no legislation can prevent those who can afford it from going abroad for treatment. For one thing, legislators may not make laws that would prevent them from going abroad for treatment. Besides, the freedom to spend one’s money on medical treatment abroad should not be curtailed by legislation.

One path to a solution is to impress it on federal and state governments to increase the budgetary allocation for health care and then set up enforcement committees at both levels to ensure that the budgeted sums are released and spent as earmarked. The function of the ministries of health should be limited to ensuring service delivery in the various medical facilities.

Until and unless medical facilities at home improve significantly, medical tourism will continue with all its negative implications for health care system at home. Whether or not they are medical tourists themselves, African leaders should muster the political will to improve the heath care system in their respective countries.

IntriHealth announced Gold sponsor of HISA2017

IntriHealth announced Gold sponsor of HISA2017

IntriHealth, an African diagnostics solutions provider, has been announced as gold sponsor of the upcoming Healthcare Innovation Summit (HISA2017). The summit will take place at Vodacom World in Johannesburg, Midrand between 29 and 30 August.

HISA2017 looks to join the dots between innovation and practicality, by presenting the latest healthcare technologies and showcasing their practical application and integration into existing healthcare infrastructure. This two-day event will feature provocative panel discussions, interactive roundtables and a roster of thought-leading, incisive speakers.

About IntriHealth
IntriHEALTH has led the way in combining medical imaging technology and diagnostic solutions that reflect the shift towards a new global model of enterprise image management. The solutions provider understands that when healthcare is driven by interconnected information, the community of medical professionals is empowered to create better patient outcomes. With over 40 installations of diverse medical imaging solutions – from women’s healthcare to operational healthcare in the mining sector, IntriHEALTH® has the largest single database of clinical images in Africa with over 2 million studies and counting. The IntriHEALTH® product suite provides a complete, long-term and practical solution to clinical data management.

Key topics at HISA2017 will include:

Can Technology Address the Shortage of Medical Practitioners in SA.
Telemedicine Initiatives: What Have We Learnt?
Healthcare Technology: Important Legal and Ethical Considerations.
How Practical is Robotic Healthcare within the African Context.
Developing a Digital Transformation Strategy for your Healthcare Facility.
Driving Down Total-Cost-of-Care with Technology.
The Future of Healthcare: What’s on the horizon?
Your Electronic Health Records Have Been Hacked. Now What?!
Will Doctors Become Obsolete?