The lack of quality healthcare in Nigeria is one serious drawback that expats and assignees have to begrudgingly accept. Though state-run hospitals and dispensaries exist, most offer poor to fair facilities, professionals and equipment. Private and non-governmental facilities exist but are not problem-free either.
Many diseases that are rarely seen in developed countries can still lead to deaths in Nigeria, such as cholera and tetanus. While this paints a largely negative picture, there is hope of improvement. Recently, Nigeria was announced to be free from wild polio – the last country in Africa to declare this, and there has been much progress in administering vaccines.
We advise expats moving to Nigeria to understand the implications of medical care in the country, including health insurance and health risks.
Public healthcare in Nigeria
Nigeria's public healthcare is regulated and implemented at federal, state and local levels and includes teaching hospitals, general hospitals and local dispensaries. Unfortunately, it is severely underfunded, and this has culminated in the national healthcare system having few qualified doctors and limited resources. The focus of state funds for medical care is on urban areas, which has also left rural areas largely ignored. As such, expats should be prepared to only access private hospitals.
Private healthcare in Nigeria
Expats should only use private clinics and hospitals in Nigeria, though even these may lack the creature comforts present in more developed countries. Some private medical facilities offer a decent standard of care, with well-trained and qualified doctors and nurses, but numbers remain limited in relation to the country's population.
Note that private institutions may lack the capacity to diagnose and respond to complicated medical problems. Expats in need of serious treatment should consider travelling elsewhere, such as to South Africa or Europe. For routine check-ups and minor issues, however, private clinics in urban areas of Nigeria, including private hospitals in Lagos, are satisfactory.
Health insurance in Nigeria
Expats should note that immediate payment for healthcare is generally expected in cash upfront. It follows that private health insurance is essential, especially if one needs to fund an emergency evacuation abroad (expats should ensure this is part of their policy). In most cases, this is a stipulation included in negotiated employment contracts, and if it isn’t then expats should broach the subject with their employer.
The cost associated with private treatment can quickly escalate, even if a large-scale medical evacuation is not needed, so it’s best to ensure adequate coverage for any eventuality.
Pharmacies in Nigeria
Pharmacies are available across most Nigerian cities, although these may not stock many of the usual drugs that expats may be used to having access to at home. Certain pharmaceuticals may not be available in the country and the same goes for preferred name brand over-the-counter medication. It’s recommended that expats bring a sizeable supply of any required prescription medication with them to Nigeria, accompanied by the prescription itself.
Health risks in Nigeria
Nigeria is affected by tropical diseases including malaria, typhoid, cholera and yellow fever. Water-borne diseases pose a greater hazard during the rainy season, between June and October.
Malaria is a concern throughout Nigeria. Expats are divided over whether or not to take malaria prophylaxes. These drugs do have side effects, and long-term use is not recommended. Additionally, they could mask the symptoms of malaria, which may impede rapid treatment. We recommend consulting a medical practitioner for advice on taking antimalarial medication and finding the most suitable approach. We also urge expats to be proactive with prevention: use a mosquito net, cover arms and legs, fumigate the house twice a year and visit the doctor immediately if experiencing any symptoms.
HIV and tuberculosis are also rife in Nigeria, so appropriate precautions must be taken. Tap water should not be consumed; water-borne diseases spread easily, and diarrhoea is a common ailment among new arrivals.
Vaccinations for Nigeria
The following vaccinations are recommended before travel to Nigeria:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow fever
The above list is merely a guide. Expats should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date and should consult with a medical professional before departure for further information on vaccinations for Nigeria.
Emergency services in Nigeria
Emergency response times in Nigeria are notoriously slow. Several private medical emergency services are in operation, particularly in Lagos, although coverage in rural areas may be limited. Expats should ensure that they have comprehensive health insurance that covers air evacuation by private means.