But with flights grounded and countries across the world on lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, these leaders are getting a wake-up call that they must fix their healthcare systems.
“There is no place for any leader to hide anymore,” Enabulele said. “This whole situation of public office holders in Africa, most times using taxpayers’ money to go on foreign medical trips at the slightest discomfort is one thing that will be reversed when this pandemic is over,” Enabulele told CNN.
A terrifying prospect
The pandemic has overwhelmed advanced health facilities, and experts predict it could devastate the continent’s fragile health systems, already plagued by inadequate funding and labor disputes.
Lifesaving machines like ventilators — critical to the management of Covid-19 cases — remain a luxury in some African countries.
“When rich nations are in panic mode stating that thousands of ventilators will not be enough, it just brings to light how poorer nations like CAR don’t stand a chance in the fight against Covid-19,” NRC Country Director in the CAR, David Manan said.
“I need to remind people that the coronavirus is more serious than they are already taking it. It is killing people in big numbers in Italy where there is a super health care system. So it scares me to even imagine what it can do in Africa if it comes in full effect,” Wine said.
Wine said health care funding has not been at the forefront of government spending in many African countries because their leaders often seek treatment in hospitals abroad.
“It’s clear that healthcare is not a priority for many African governments, and they put very little money into that sector. Anytime they are sick, or their children are having health conditions, they opt to go outside their countries,” Wine said.
“Now the coronavirus pandemic has set a different ground for many African leaders. It has shown that they should have invested in the healthcare system of their countries which would have benefited them and the people in this crisis.”
The lawmaker says monies spent on medical trips abroad could have been used to equip local hospitals with modern medical equipment such as ventilators, which have proved critical in treating some patients who have developed respiratory illnesses because of Covid-19.
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Wine said some public hospitals in Uganda had become “death traps” due to years of neglect, and some citizens, including himself, have had to pay prohibitive costs for overseas treatment that could have been cheaper in Uganda.
“I have had to spend my funds to seek advance treatment abroad because the procedure could not be provided in this country. But a majority of leaders in Uganda travel abroad for minor care using taxpayers money,” Wine said.
But Uganda’s health minister Jane Aceng told CNN Wine’s assessment of the country’s health system was not accurate.
“Uganda is doing well and that shows with our response to the coronavirus situation. We’re doing well,” she said.
Aceng added that she had all the resources needed to do her job.
A failed pledge
African leaders have consistently neglected their country’s health sector despite several pledges to do improve it, analysts say.
But a majority have fallen through the cracks in fulfilling this commitment.
“In per capita terms, the rest of the world spends 10 times more on health care than Africa,” the researchers said.
The researchers predict it may be difficult for the countries on the continent to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals with a 2030 deadline with the “current spending environment.”
Nigerian-British historian Ed Keazor agrees that the fallout from the outbreak is a “wake-up call” for governments to prioritize affordable health care.
Keazor, a cancer survivor said he made the difficult decision to move back to London where he has access to affordable care under the National Health Service even though he works in Nigeria.
Keazor says he’s missed an appointment with his doctor in the UK due to the travel restriction, and that would not have been a problem if he could get the same quality of care locally.
“If I could get the same quality of care here (Nigeria) as in the UK where I’m a taxpayer and getting good medical services, I would rather stay back here because this is where my work and my larger family is but unfortunately, its not there,” Keazor told CNN.
For now, he hopes the health crisis will change the Nigerian government’s focus to where he says it should be.
“I hope the enormity of this problem has brought home the urgency of investment in health care infrastructure to the government and whatever the country looks like after this crisis is over, our priorities will be focused on heath care and education,” he said.
CNN’s Brent Swails and Anita Patrick contributed to this story.