By Sola Ogundipe
The signing, last week, of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017, by President Muhammadu Buhari, is unarguably one of the most significant developments of 2017 in the Nigerian health sector.
The President’s assent of the Act followed the passage of the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill by the Senate, and the House of Representatives.
Signed along with five other Acts, the Gunshot Victims Act 2017 stipulates that a person with a gunshot wound shall be received for immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria with or without initial monetary deposit and shall not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority, including the Police and other security agencies.
Hopes are high that the Act will ensure every victim of gunshot wounds receives appropriate treatment from medical workers and essential assistance from security agencies. It is expected that the Act will also ensure that everyone has access to medical treatment irrespective of the cause of the shooting.
By assenting to the Gunshot Victims Act, President Buhari has put to rest one of the most worrisome public health issues in the country.
Mandatory requirement of legislation for treatment of victims of gunshot wounds brought in for emergency medical attention without Police report, has been a long time coming.
In the past, gunshot victims were required to present police reports and clearance before they could be treated.
But regardless of the fact that medical doctors and personnel were urged to treat such victims and report such incidents to the Police, gunshot victims without Police clearance were still being rejected by hospitals.
Many lives have been lost either as a result of denial for treatment or during the long process of waiting for Police clearance.
The Gunshot Victims Act, is a major step towards saving persons from uneccessary and preventable death by addressing old inadequacies of the law.
In addition to ensuring mandatory assistance for treatment, the fundamental rights of gunshot victims are protected, hence Nigeria now has a “treat first, ask questions later” policy for victims of gunshot wounds taken to the hospital.
The President also assented to the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (Establishment) Act, 2017 that would provide national direction in cancer research, control and treatment; guide scientific improvements to cancer prevention, treatment and care, coordinate and coordinate actions for cancer care.
Also signed is the Anti-Torture Act, 2017 that makes comprehensive provisions for penalising acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and prescribes penalties for such acts.