Euracare's goal was to reverse the medical tourism trend in Nigeria by bringing international excellence to the country. What progress have you achieved in that regard over the years?
Some 16,000 Nigerians leave the country every year for medical tourism, because of the perceived quality of the service and the quality of equipment and staffing. We have international suppliers and brought back highly skilled Nigerian specialists that were working abroad for a long time to ensure we could have the same standard of care. We receive a great deal of feedback from patients that the standard of care we provide them is extremely different. We focus on the patient experience. We changed the layout to improve the experience and make them feel welcome. We focus on the ambiance and how they feel. As a result of our efforts, we have been able to retain many more patients in Nigeria, even though some people still travel for tourism and seize the opportunity to get certain medical procedures done while they are there. We have done 14 procedures in Euracare that had never been done before in the history of Nigeria. Because of COVID-19, many people realized we could provide services of the same quality as in Europe, which led to an increase in our patient volume. This trend will likely remain, because after the borders opened, we saw a slight reduction in volume month by month, though March 2021 was the best month ever for the organization.
How challenging is finding talent in the country and getting doctors who live abroad to come back to Nigeria?
We must train people even if they leave; hence, we are constantly training them. People want better opportunities for themselves and their families, which is understandable. However, there is also a trend of specialists who want to repatriate after being in other countries for a long time. They return to Nigeria because they have a desire to come back home, even if they do not receive the same benefits.
How are you dealing with the difficulties of having to import equipment in dollars but earning in naira?
When working in this environment, you deal with it; you do not have much choice. The issue sometimes is that you need further accreditation in Nigeria for equipment that is FDA or EU approved. This makes it more expensive to import equipment. It would be helpful if this could be waived, so the industry in Nigeria can be much more competitive. The African Union platform is a game changer. We can already use it, and it is discussing with the local authorities to waive some of the requirements here.
Another issue is the low coverage of health insurance. Do you see this changing anytime soon?
It is not an easy issue to resolve, especially because only a few people pay taxes in the country. Uganda has created community funds, where people add as much as they can monthly to a fund that takes care of the community. I have been in discussions in Nigeria to create a mobile clinic with the same model where there are simple services, and patients can access primary healthcare. People can then pool money in these funds, which can support them.
What is your outlook for the year ahead?
Our infrastructure is under pressure due to the surge in patients, so we want to grow the business as far as the infrastructure allows. We are discussing upgrading and constructing new offices to meet our requirements and those of our physicians. Aside from finishing our new hospital, we are looking into opportunities in other parts of the country.