Viewpoint in brief: Reversing medical tourism
By Chuks Okocha
A healthy nation, they say, is a wealthy nation.
This explains why the 8th National Assembly under the chairmanship of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has been championing the campaign that one per cent (1%) of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) be set aside in the 2018 Budget and subsequent budgets to boost basic primary healthcare services across the country.
This budgetary intervention in critical sectors is not new as it has been done in the past with the establishment of the Tertiary Education Fund (TETFUND) and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) where a percent of the consolidated revenue is reserved for the funding and development of the education sector.
The National Assembly’s decision to reserve one percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to boost healthcare was disclosed by Saraki in his address at the 58th Annual General and Scientific Conference of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA).
The Senate President explained that the amount would enable the Federal Government provide and fund quality and basic healthcare services for the benefit of Nigerians when the 2018 Appropriation Bill becomes law.
The Senate President, who is also a medical doctor, reiterated his earlier position when the delegation, led by the NMA President, visited him, last week, at the National Assembly. Saraki insisted that Primary and Universal Health Care provisions will remain key issues on the legislative agenda of the 8th Senate under his leadership.
“It is a promise that we have made to Nigerians, and one that we are determined to keep. In July last year, I launched the Legislative Network for Universal Health Coverage; and urged the Federal Government to honour the Abuja Declaration (2001), while calling for full implementation of the National Health Act 2014, which – as some of you will recall – I helped formulate during the 7th Senate”, he said.
“Therefore, there is no better place than here today, to announce that the issue of funding will be attended to in our budgetary review of the 2018 Appropriations Bill. The Senate has, with the cooperation of the House of Representatives, resolved to mandate our Committees on Appropriations to ensure that the pledge to set aside 1 per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) is met.
“This would be the underpinning for a legislative framework for the BHCPF and revitalisation of primary health care delivery across the nation. It will happen, and it is imminent.”
Saraki disclosed that the Nigerian health sector, especially Primary Health Care, has not been adequately attended to, in terms of the standard medical and infrastructural resources needed for the preservation and advancement of citizens’ lives and the economy.
This, he explained, ‘is regrettable’ because it has retarded progress in the healthcare provision of Nigeria. He explained that at the centre of these issues is funding – or specifically, the lack of funding. “Once this 1 per cent is put into law, we as legislators will embark on the next stage, which will be to ensure that we get value for money, by ensuring transparency in the use of the funds,” he stated.
The President of the Senate further decried situation where Nigeria ranks amongst the top countries whose citizens regularly travel outside its shores in search of medical treatment and support. He lamented that the country loses over $1bn annually to medical tourism which is untenable and unsustainable.
“Some countries even go to great lengths to streamline certain aspects of their health policies specifically for Nigerians. It is a damning indictment of what we have not been able to provide for our own citizens in this country, such that a great number of our citizens feel they have to go elsewhere, at great cost to the individual and collective purse,” he said.
Saraki expressed optimism that with Nigeria’s upward review in the Ease of Doing Business index, coupled with the right government support, Public Private Partnership (PPP) would yield a positive result for the nation’s medical system by reversing the trend of medical tourism.
- Okocha is a Special Assistant to the Senate President