Medical tourism is when people visit other countries only to use their medical system.

Over the years, African leaders have developed a reputation for engaging in this practice.  

Some examples include:  

Muhammadu Buhari – Nigeria 

Muhammadu Buhari infamously went to the UK for medical treatment for a period of 4 months, outraging Nigerians and breaking his election pledge to end medical tourism.


Patrice Talon – Benin

Patrice Talon flew to France in May 2017 for almost a month to treat an undisclosed illness in Paris.


José Eduardo Dos Santos – Angola 

José Eduardo Dos Santos revealed he traveled to Spain in May 2017 to seek medical treatment after opposition parties heaped pressure on the government to disclose his location.


Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe 

Robert Mugabe went three times to Singapore in 2017 to have medical treatment – an apparent lack of faith in the health system in Zimbabwe.


Ali Bongo – Gabon 

More recently, Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, suffered a stroke and was rushed to hospital, in Saudi Arabia, on October 24.


Ironically, medical tourism has not worked well for all African leaders who have been guilty of it. Some African leaders have found death on their journey to get healthy.


Levy Mwanawasa, president of Zambia, died in France on the 19th of August 2008, he suffered from stroke.

Michael Sata  the 5th president of Zambia died in the UK. He was receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness.

Etienne Gnassingbe Eyadema president of Togo died on the 5th of February 2005 in the plain on his way to Paris to get treatment.

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua dies the 5th May 2010 back in Nigeria after spending months in Saudi Arabia for medical care.

Medical tourism by leaders is especially baffling to Africans, considering the state that some of these leaders continue to leave the hospitals and healthcare in their countries.

In Nigeria, for example, the inability of successive presidents to effectively address the country’s numerous public health challenges has contributed to the persistent and high levels of weakness in Nigeria’s health system.

Similarly, the lack of government investment and resources to train medical doctors and healthcare professionals in Gabon means the country has only six doctors and four midwives for every 10,000 Gabonese.

In Uganda, it is estimated that the funds spent to treat top government officials abroad every year could build 10 hospitals.

If Africa’s leaders continue going abroad for medical attention, the ambition for better African healthcare will remain an illusion.

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