President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday conducted the official take-off of the planned $300 million African Medical Centre of Excellence (AMCE) to be implemented in Abuja by the Benedict Oramah-led African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).
At the event which he attended virtually, the president who decried the rising cases of non-communicable diseases like cancer noted that unfortunately, West African countries lacked the wherewithal to deal with such ailments.
According to Buhari, such ailments are now the highest contributors to non-communicable disease mortalities, representing more than 81 per cent of all NCD deaths in West Africa.
“Cardiovascular ailments, cancers and haematological disorders have increasingly become matters of concern to public healthcare. The World Health Organisation (WHO) projects that deaths on the African continent attributable to cancer and diabetes are expected to rise over the next 10 years.
“The rising NCD burden coupled with inadequate medical infrastructure on the continent threatens the future of our people. Right now, many hospitals in the West African region are underfunded, underequipped, understaffed and relatively inaccessible to most patients especially from rural areas,” he stated.
The president noted that inasmuch as the situation represents an opportunity for investment in African healthcare, it had not necessarily translated into increased investment activity in the most pressing areas that require intervention.
He explained that the problem was further exacerbated by the significant brain drain experienced by the continent, adding that the exodus of doctors and nurses to other continents had resulted in a significant gap between the required treatments for non-communicable and the available treatments and care.
“The above challenges combine to create a regional health market with poor access to critical services and low perception of quality of care available,’’ the president noted.
While lauding the bank, Buhari said the 500-bed specialist facility will provide services in the areas of oncology, cardiology, and haematology and will seek to address the significant shortage of clinical care options in the West African sub-region.
“The AMCE demonstrates that Afreximbank is not only Africa’s trade finance partner, but its a development partner,” he said, adding that a stronger partnership with the private sector will help in improving health facilities and access in the country.
Aside Afreximbank , other partners in the project include Kings College Hospital, London, University of Winsconsin Teaching Hospital, USA and Christies Hospital, Manchester.
According to the president, in addition to providing comprehensive care across the three critical care areas, the AMCE will offer educational services to develop talent and establish itself as a world-class research centre, in partnership with global institutions.
“The success of the AMCE will pave the way for future investments and partnerships in the sector while raising the local standard of healthcare and providing a blueprint for quality of services required to address Nigeria’s and Africa’s healthcare and economic challenges,” he said.
Oramah, in his remarks said the ceremony was one step towards self-reliance for Africa’s health care delivery as the project will pool world-class technology and global talents, particularly the African diaspora.
Oramah noted that the 500-bed and estimated $300 million AMCE was conceived to promote intra-African medical tourism and reduce the outflow of over $7 billion annually in outbound medical tourism.
He added that the vision for the health centre was borne out of a personal experience he encountered following his recovery from a potentially life-threatening blood disorder.
Aside its services in the areas of diagnostics, oncology, haematology, cardiology and general healthcare services, he stated that another significant focus of the AMCE is to perform innovative and ground-breaking research, development and educational programmes in partnership with leading global institutions.
In addition, the bank said that the facility has the potential to establish the largest and most diverse biobank in West Africa enabling it to attract global and Pan-African partnerships making it a global point of reference and source of medical tourism in the region.
“It will also offer residency, training and placement programmes such that physicians and students at local teaching hospitals will have opportunities to train under the expertise of its specialists and with the benefit of its AMCE’s patient volumes.
“The partnership with King’s College Hospital will increase locally available clinical capabilities, provide education and training, relying on KCH’s two centuries’ of experience in providing specialist healthcare services, medicine, and medical research.
“Afreximbank will also set its sights on implementing a continent-wide plan of developing similar AMCEs with the aim of improving the quality of healthcare and health related research to cater for the African population,” the African bank stated.
The Abuja AMCE is also expected to enhance service exports providing healthcare to over 50,000 people annually, promote employment and creating over 3,000 jobs during its construction and operational phases and conserve foreign exchange.
In his remarks, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said all hands are on deck, with the inter-ministerial committee working to ensure that the project is actualised in a way that is beneficial to all parties.
Deji Elumoye and Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja