By SOLA OGUNDIPE & CHIOMA OBINNA
AS the public hearing of the revised 2012 National Health Bill got under way in at the National Assembly Abuja Monday February 12, expectations remained high among a wide section of Nigerians that the Senate will come up with a comprehensive new National Health Bill, NHB, that would realistically address basic primary health challenges in the country.
The original NHB was returned to the National Assembly in 2012 following failure of President Jonathan to sign it into law. Nigerians expect that, when eventually passed into law, the NHB, which provides frame work and strategies for effective planning, financing, governance, delivery, monitoring and evaluation of healthcare services in the country, is a veritable tool for positively transforming the Nigerian public health system.
The dream of all, is that the NHB would guarantee every Nigerian access to a minimum package of basic healthcare services including the provision of free medical care for children under five years of age, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities, as well as guarantee funding for health at the primary healthcare level where over 70 percent of the nation’s disease burden can be addressed.
NMA seeks accelerated passage
Already, the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, has urged the National Assembly to give the bill accelerated passage.
President of the NMA, Dr Osahon Enabulele, noted in Lagos, said Nigeria’s health system has been unable to meet expectations of the people for a robust and a qualitative healthcare delivery due to the absence of a legal and regulatory frame work to effectively and efficiently coordinate and manage Nigeria healthcare system.
Enebulele said failure to pass the Health Bill as soon as possible would further worsen overall health of Nigerians and limit access to healthcare services particularly at the primary healthcare level.
His words: “The National Health Bill substantially captures the legitimate aspirations of Nigerians for greatly improved access to quality healthcare services.
“The Bill seeks to ensure that no Nigerian, particularly the rural poor dies as a result of inability for him to pay healthcare services including medical care for emergencies, accident and gunshot injury victims.”
Further, Enabulele said passage of the NHB would address the issue of medical tourism which contributes to Nigeria losing over $500 million annually.
“The NHB 2012 is direly needed to reverse the trend of frequent and sometimes unnecessary foreign medical trips and make Nigeria a destination for medical tourism.
“It will also significantly help to address the inequitable distribution of health human resources as well as brain drain of health human resources in Nigeria’s health system.”
CSOs request removal of contentious sections
But in its own contribution, the coalition of Civil Societies Organisations, CSOs, of Nigeria wants the National Assembly to expunge what they described as offensive sections of the 2008 NHB that that are replicated in the new National health bill 2012.
Spokesperson for the CSO, Barrister Sonnie Ekwowusi noted that except the contentious sections were removed, the NHB may not achieve its ultimate goal of providing adequate health care for all Nigerians.
“It is a big scandal that in a country where uncountable Nigerians are dying owing to inaccessibility to basic primary care, legislators are sponsoring a bill to legalise the exploitation and trafficking in human eggs, embryos, embryonic stem cell research, therapeutic and reproductive cloning,” he noted in a statement.
Ekwowusi alleged that the section in question gives the Minister of Health unbridled powers to grant life to human embryos, harvest human eggs and sperms and even do business with them.
Calling for an open public debate or discussion on the bill, he said trafficking in human eggs, embryos and embryonic stem cell research has become a multibillion dollar business worldwide. “Therefore if Nigeria goes ahead and legalizes it, it will be very difficult to control or regulate considering ineffective Police system, judicial checks and regulatory policies.
“Rather than chase shadows, the National Assembly, Federal Ministry of Health and Minister of Health, should, pursuant to Section 17 of the Federal Constitution, concentrate efforts in overhauling the country’s healthcare system in order to improve the medical facilities in the hospitals, save billions squandered in medical treatment abroad every year, avoid untimely deaths from diseases and prevent high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates,” Ekwowusi remarked.