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Nigeria, great country(2)

By MICHAEL EGBEJUMI-DAVID

IN 2008, following a huge outcry over his constant jetting out for treatment, the government announced that some $20 million would be spent to upgrade Aso Rock Clinic.  $20 million!  That clinic is for the exclusive use of the President.  But there is something called the National Hospital in Abuja which I understand was founded by Maryam Abacha.  This is, supposedly, Nigeria’s premier hospital, but still our big people will not patronise the place.

The National Hospital started off as a women & children’s facility to reduce morbidity and mortality rates amongst that population and was formally opened in 1999 by Abdulsalami.  By May 2000, the place had been designated a national hospital and it began to take on male patients.  Its operating cost in 2008 was nearly N4.3 billion but it is only known for its IVF focus.

Apart from the National hospital, there are other public healthcare institutions dotted across the country but these places are largely under-funded, mismanaged and near desolate.  There are plenty of private hospitals as well, but Nigerian big men and women only spend, at best, the first day of their illness in these places before they are flown abroad.

The National hospital was initially managed by the International Health Group brought in from the UK to manage the hospital for 10 years.  However, in 2003, Obasanjo sacked the management board for incompetence and installed his Special Assistant and Lawyer, Musa Elayo as head of the interim board.  Obasanjo also appointed his personal physician, Dr. Olusegun Ajuwon the Chief Medical Director.

But when Yar’Adua took over, nothing at all happened in our healthcare sector.  Even the funny and kickback laden contract that Obasanjo awarded (again, to another one of his former aides!) for the building of one health clinic in each of the 774 Local Government Areas of the country was revoked by Yar’Adua’s government, but the government never suggested an alternative policy nor did anything itself.

During Obasanjo’s second term, I sent in a detailed proposal to his last Health Minister on ways to revamp and run a functional primary care health service, but nothing came out of that effort.  All I got back in response was a standard email reply and that was that.  But healthcare in Nigeria is still largely neglected.  I don’t know how many Nigerians go to Germany, Saudi Arabia, USA, Portugal, etc for medical attention, but I do know that the traffic into London alone is very heavy indeed.

The Jonathans, Atiku, Turaki, Buhari, Babangida (his own preferred destination is France), Emirs, Obas, Military chiefs, all the Ministers, all State governors and nearly all other government officials all flock abroad for medical care, annual medical check-ups and eye tests.  All these people are ferried abroad and are treated at public expense.

Quite a few of them die abroad because it is sometimes too late to do much for them by the time they arrive and because acute emergency medical response back in Nigeria is under-funded and inadequate.  Others sometimes die whilst waiting to be flown abroad.  There was even the pathetic case of Gen. Abdulkarim Adisa, a former Works Minister who died in a London hospital following a road accident in Nigeria.

Yet, throughout that whole period, President Yar’Adua continued to lead the way with unending trips out for treatment.  He was constantly under sedation and what not.  I often wondered whether anyone in the government inner circle ever thought about the possible national security implication.  Entrusting the elective medical care (as different from emergency intervention) of a country’s leader continually in the hands of foreigners and in foreign countries is fraught with risks and danger, is it not?

But I know that our leaders and their cohorts think that they cannot entrust their lives to the inadequate healthcare provision in Nigeria.  They continue to flounce to foreign lands and foreign hospitals that are, in any case, suffused with Nigerian doctors and nurses.  So why don’t they do something about the dysfunctional healthcare system at home?

Why not make it adequate?  Why not invest in it – try public/private finance initiatives?  Make it functional.  Make it effectual and Nigerians will come home.  Lay a credible foundation or, minimally, start to show some believable effort and others will be more than happy to come and join-in and help build a sustainable healthcare system.

Not picking on President Yar’Adua here.  Please remember, he is just a case study.  But when the late President was campaigning, before he got caught out and landed in a familiar German hospital with sinus problems, he famously declared that he was a regular squash player.  Throughout his eight years in Katsina, as he preoccupied himself with playing squash and laying on foreign sick beds, Katsina State consistently came dead last in the National Examinations Council (NECO) exams.  Our healthcare system should no longer be so treated for obvious reasons, but I know that our leaders often play with Nigeria; the problem is that it is not funny anymore.


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