IRONIC: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s nearly month-long medical leave in London reminds his country’s taxpayers they are often are stuck with decrepit health facilities at home. Picture: AP Photo
South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has a point, as difficult as that is on the palate.

In an interview with African Independent, Motsoaledi said it was a disgrace that our leaders sought medical treatment overseas instead of in their own hospitals.

“I don't like it,” he emphasised.

“I believe we are the only continent where, when the head of state is sick, they have to go and look for health care outside the continent. What does it say of us as Africa. Why only us on this continent?” he asked, rhetorically.

It's an obvious reaction from a minister well aware of the costs of delivering quality health care in an underdeveloped country, but I tend to agree with the minister.

Why should our leaders seek health care overseas when the rest of us don't have access to such sophisticated amenities? Why are the facilities in our countries not good enough for the President?

In recent years, heads of state Levy Mwanawasa (Zambia), Lansana Conté (Guinea), Malam Bacai Sanhá (Guinea Bissau) and Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia) died overseas seeking medical treatment.

Others, such as Gabon First Lady Edith Lucie Bongo, John Atta Mills (Ghana) and Nigeria’s Umaru Musa Yar'Adua died in their respective countries after medical stints abroad.

“When heads of state in America are sick they are treated there, when heads of state all over Europe are sick they get treated there. When heads of states in the Far East are sick they are treated there. Why are we the only continent that when our heads of states are sick they have to go elsewhere?” Motsoaledi says.

I have one more question to add to that: are leaders the only ones who do this? We often get carried away with debates about how our leaders conduct themselves, wasting resources on their own needs, but rarely do we acknowledge that this behaviour is not unique to politicians. Many of us make similar life choices. We choose the road better tarred than a road of hardship and self-sacrifice. Some do, but they're in the minority, or dead.

When faced with situations where the only outcomes possible are life or death, people have a natural instinct to choose life. And so they will do what it takes to get help. It's the reason medical companies own our lives, and have us hooked on their products.

Nigerians are spending an estimated US$1 billion on medical treatment abroad.

According to the East African Community (EAC), governments in the subregion lose about $150million annually in seeking medical treatment overseas. It's a vicious cycle.

“The day we wake up and say health care systems have improved is the day heads of state have confidence in their health care systems. Why leave the masses and go elsewhere. What about the masses here back home? It's grossly unacceptable,” Motsoaledi continues.

It also begs another question: if you were in a position of power or influence, or had the means, would you not seek the best medical treatment if your life depended on it? Screw what people say, at least you're alive to hear it.

Not to equate a terminal illness with access to education, but thousands of government school teachers send their children to private schools. Public health doctors send their kids to private hospitals.

There is a lack of confidence at least, or fear at worst, of government-controlled services. It's difficult to argue with someone who wants only the best for themselves and their families. But we expect more from our leaders. We hold them to a higher standard because they serve us (in theory at least).

God burden we are in the same position as Buhari and Mugabe, where we have to choose between ourselves or the people who put us in power and trusted us. Millions will say they deserve the best medical facilities, they’ve earned it by virtue of being elected by a democratic process. Others will point out the irony all day long.

The days of our leaders sacrificing their lives for us are long gone, we don't expect that anymore. By all means get the treatment you need, but what we do expect is a level of consideration and empathy for those they leave behind, with little or no hope of life-extending treatment.