It is well documented that politicians from across the continent travel abroad for medical treatment.
When former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe died at a Singapore Hospital on 6 September, he joined a number of African leaders who left their counties to seek medical treatment overseas.
In 2017, Muhammadu Buhari infamously went to the UK for medical treatment for a period of 4 months, Benin president Patrice Talon flew to France in May of the same year for almost a month to treat an undisclosed illness in Paris, France. Ali Bongo, president of Gabon suffered a stroke and was rushed to hospital, in Saudi Arabia on October 24.
Some African leaders have found death on their journey to get healthy. Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa died in France, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi died in Belgium and and Gabon’s Omar Bongo died in Spain.
The list of political medical tourists is endless.
Countries pay a heavy cost for this behavior. Its estimated that in Uganda, the funds spent to treat top government officials abroad every year could build 10 hospitals.
Not only do the leaders travel with elaborate entourages, but they also travel in expensive chartered jets. For example, the cost of parking Buhari’s plane during his spell in London in 2017 is estimated at £360,000 – equivalent to about 0.07% of Nigeria’s N304 billion budget allocation for health in that same year.
Africa’s public health systems are in a depressing condition. Its therefore not surprising that people from Africa travel abroad – mainly to Europe, North America and Asia – for their medical needs. In 2016, Africans spent over $6 billion on outbound treatment. Nigeria is a major contributor. Its citizens spend over $1 billion annually on health tourism.
Nyasha K Mutizwa further details the impact political medical tourism is having on the continent.