Dr Eugene A. Nwosu is an American-trained cardiologist and a diplomat of American Board of Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases. The 62 years old recently relocated to Nigeria from his base in Savannah, Georgia, where he had practised medicine for 33 years. Among other things, Dr Nwosu tells Newton-Ray Ukwuoma in this interview, that his mission in Nigeria is to reverse the ugly trend of medical tourism.
You were in the United States during the Ebola period. How did you feel about Nigeria at that time?
Let me tell you, the way Nigeria handled Ebola was remarkable, even the United States learnt from Nigeria. If Nigeria can handle every other problem as they handled Ebola, we would have been among the best 20 countries in the world. It was a matter of life and death so everybody was equally afraid and equally involved. Could you have imagined anyone embezzling the money budgeted for Ebola? People would have stoned that person to death. The way everybody handled Ebola was excellent. And if we can do that for every other thing, this country will be one of the best places to live in.
Why did you decide to relocate to Nigeria?
I left Nigeria 33 years ago after my medical education at the University of Ibadan. Since then, I have had extensive training and practice in the United States. I have had a wonderful life over there, practising medicine with the first class facilities, organised society and a smooth life. While there, news about the state of Nigeria’s healthcare system continued to torment me. What am I doing here, when I can go and help? I asked myself at a point. So, that is the reason I came back to Nigeria — to help. I am aware of the lack of specialists in Nigeria, underfunded healthcare system, lack of infrastructure, poor salary, migration of medical personnel and shortage of doctors. I know that Nigerians are flocking all over the world looking for answer. The cost of medical tourism sponsored by Nigeria to the world is alarming. The truth is the outcome is not always good. So, we end up wasting a lot of money and resources. So, the idea is to come back home, do my little part, set up a high standard facility that will allow me to practise the same kind of high standard cardiology I have been practising in the United States for 33 years. So, that is why I came back to set up this facility (his hospital).
How much of the problems are you looking to tackle?
That is an important question. Obviously, I cannot solve all the problems, not in a hundred years. Having said that, another important reason for my coming back is mentorship. We are mortals, when we die we basically need someone to pass the torch to. So, I would take a lot of interest in teaching and mentoring some young doctors. It is not just mentoring them about the medical practice, there is also need for character training. Things don’t work in the country because of character. People are not always committed. Productivity is very low. People want to earn money without working for it. In United Hearts, we do not tolerate any inefficiency. It is a whole package. I want to create a different experience in Nigeria. Also, I will be working to attract other successful Nigerians abroad back to the country. Most talented and successful Nigerians are in America and other countries. If United Hearts succeeds, I will be bold enough to start a campaign for them to come back, to tell them that it is doable. So, I am setting this up to poach people back.
Professionally speaking, how do we care for our hearts?
First of all, we must understand the causes of heart diseases and the risk factors. If you eat poorly, you have a risk factor for heart disease. As you get older, the risk factor for heart disease increases. If you have a high blood pressure, diabetes, these are risk factors for heart disease. And if you are not having regular physical exercise and if you are smoking, if you have high cholesterol, if you have family history of heart disease they increase the chances of having a heart disease. So, with any of these risk factors in mind, we can easily modify the chances of a heart disease by taking certain steps. I think the first step is education. We all need to know these risk factors because if you know, you can prevent it. High blood pressure, for instance, is a silent killer. Most people with the condition do not manifest any symptoms at all. With high blood pressure, you can wake up one day paralysed or with a heart attack or with kidney failure, without dialysis. By eating right, doing regular physical exercise, you can change the risk of having heart attack by 90 per cent.
Do you have a message to the Nigerian government as regards healthcare intervention?
To be honest, the government is not doing what it is supposed to do. Healthcare is seriously underfunded. I understand that it is about one per cent of the budget. Healthcare delivery costs money. How this is done is that government supports health insurance scheme. All developed countries have personal health insurance for their citizens because the government supports it. If I have heart failure in America, I cannot afford it. Nobody can afford the cost of dialysis, but the government pays for it. In Britain, dialysis is so expensive that the government made a law allowing people who have kidney failure at 55 years old and above to die. The government only pays for people who are under 55. Right now, there is dialysis here in Nigeria, each session N30,000 and you need to do it three times a week for the rest of your life. Who will afford that? The government has to do its part to show commitment. Then we have another problem of execution. Even when the money is budgeted, is it going to be used appropriately? I also understand that some doctors are being owed salaries for years and they are going on strike. Even the salary is peanut. Nigerian doctors and nurses in America are making so much money that they never want to come back here. Some of them are making over $100,000 a year. We pay them poorly. My sister who was wretched as a nurse here was taken to America and in less than four years, she bought four houses. Do you expect her to return to Nigeria? It is not easy to come back here.
What is the cost of running your facility in Nigeria?
The cost is enormous. Take power for instance, we have high maintenance equipment here that require constant power supply. That is non-negotiable. So, I have to provide power. I also have to buy a lot of stabilisers and UPS for the appliances. Also, to create this kind of environment, you have to have staff. I want it to be this clean. All these things contribute to the cost.
To be honest, not everybody can afford here. But there are some people, based on need, I give discount. But remember we talked about medical tourism. People who can afford to travel to India and other countries can afford this place.