*Says it’s time for compulsory health insurance for citizens
*Varsity education is not sustainable without fees, Prof. Ujah disagrees with ASUU
*Says medical lecturers contemplating detaching from the union over effects of a prolonged strike
By Joseph Erunke, ABUJA
The President, Nigerian Academy of Medicine, NAMed, Prof. Samuel Ohaegbulam has expressed concern over Nigeria’s declining health indices, tasking the presidential candidates in the 2023 general elections to demonstrate to Nigerians how they intend to tackle the problem.
This was as he called on the federal government to as a matter of urgency provide compulsory health insurance for the citizens, saying,”Without a successful compulsory health insurance, we can never generate enough revenue to tackle the health challenges.”
Noting that “the health sector is progressively deteriorating and anybody who is honest and sincere would acknowledge that”, the professor of neurosurgery, who is currently the Board Of Trustees’ Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Enugu State chapter, tasked the federal and state governments to improve on the funding of health services.
Prof. Ohaegbulam, who is the Neurosurgeon-in-Chief at Memfys Hospital for Neurosurgery, Enugu, spoke in Abuja, at the occasion of the Nigerian Academy of Medicine’s 2022 Annual Lecture, with a theme: “2023 and Beyond-Setting the Health Agenda.
“The Nigerian Academy of Medicine is worried about health indices and would want people running for the office of the president to tell Nigerians how they intend to tackle it.
” Days are gone where you just come and read nice stories on what you want to do, saying ‘I would do this and that and go away without telling us how you would generate the funds to do it,” he said.
According to him,”All over the world, they (presidential candidates) do it by telling people ‘I’m going to do this and this is how I am going to generate the funds to do it, this is how the funding will come about and economists will go and analyze it and see if what they are saying makes sense or not.”
“You can’t just come and say ‘I will do this, I will do that without telling us where the money will come from.
” If you tell us, then people will go and study it and see if there is a sense in that and they can challenge you, they can debate the topic and see if that can actually happen. So I think it is the direction we are going. People are really becoming more enlightened and asking questions, they don’t just take the sweet words that come from the politicians anymore,” he added.
Noting also that the reversal of the nation’s poor health indices “is by improving the funding and the services.’, he noted that:” This is because you cannot improve the services without adequate funding.”
He decried the proliferation of health centres by governments at all levels without consolidating existing ones, saying the development was negatively impacting the nation’s health sector.
“If you have to clean up primary health care centres, you need money. What has been happening in the past is that when ministers come, they start building new ones, instead of addressing the ones that exist.
” I come from Imo State and I know what our previous governor did. He rushed into building numerous health centres and non of them is in use today. That money could have been used to improve the existing facilities. Those structures are wasting away now”, he lamented.
He regretted that the federal government had not implemented the many reports of committees set to find solutions to the nation’s declining health sector.
“We worked over the years to make suggestions with a lot of mandates,a lot of documents in the Presidency and the Ministry of Health but what has come out of those efforts?
“We have so many associations in the country, these associations on health alone are over 60, and all working hard to promote the health sector, but with all the efforts,is the public feeling the impact of our contributions?
The reason is that the financing is very outrageous.
“The little hospital I have alone,I know how much we spend a year to run it. The sort of budget announced at both the state and federal levels is actually ridiculous. There is one piece of equipment we are negotiating for now and the bill that we are being given is almost N1 billion. Just one piece of equipment!, one machine!
“So, how can you run a health service with the kind of budget that they keep releasing every year? And that is announced budget, how much of it is released into the service is another question? He said.
He urged Nigerians to “pray that 2023 will bring on board people who are more committed and who can appreciate the problem and tackle it.”
Dwelling more on health insurance, Prof. Ohaegbulam noted that:” Without successful compulsory health insurance, we can never generate enough revenue to tackle the health challenges.”
“There has to be compulsory health insurance and if people can’t afford to pay, then the government can help them, and family members can help them.
” Rather than using N2 million to help somebody to go and do surgery, it is better to help them subscribe to the health insurance and I am sure it would happen if people are convinced that that is necessary. So it’s just advocacy to market it, to let people appreciate it.
“It is like vehicle insurance where people are never convinced that it is necessary, they think they can get away with it until they have an accident, then they see it as an opportunity to have insurance.
“This can be achieved, many countries have achieved it. If we drive it, it would be achieved. You won’t expect somebody begging in the streets to subscribe but the government can take over that responsibility to help those people by paying their own insurance,” he insisted.
He said medical doctors had been enticed to inherit some abandoned medical structures in the South East without success.
“In fact, they tried to entice doctors to take them over but nobody wants to take that. How would you inherit that? It is better to build new ones than to inherit useless buildings that you don’t even know how it was constructed”, he said.
” So, these are the issues. Don’t rush to build new ones, just improve on what is existing,” he advised.
He spoke further:”Many universities are being built, many new teaching hospitals are being built,why are they necessary at this point in time when we don’t have money to run the existing ones? So it is better to consolidate what we have, improve on them, and make them work before starting new ones. But every president that comes wants to build ten universities,20 universities?
“I come from the South East, one of the neighbouring states, Ebonyi State has a federal university and a state teaching hospital. But the outgoing governor has built another medical school and Ebonyi is the least developed of all the states in the South East! Where would the staff come from? Where does he have the professors and the experienced people who will run those institutions? So it’s money. If you ask people to come and be part-time this and part-time that, they will go and collect the money but are the students benefiting from that? So these are issues that must be addressed.”
Also speaking at the event, the Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Medical Science, Otukpo, Prof. Innocent Ujah, decried the prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, saying the development had in no small measure affected medical students.
The professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, who backed ASUU that adequate funds must be committed to university education in the country, however, disagreed with the lecturers’ union that government must make university education free, arguing that such policy if implemented, would collapse the nation’s university education.
“In terms of funding of universities, obviously, ASUU has a case in what they are saying but we should also look at the other side. The issue of no fee cannot be sustained. People must pay for education because it is not possible for the government to fund education.
“I am one of those who believe that some fees must be charged in the university because that is the only way to sustain a university education. The ASUU position of no fee must be reconsidered.
” I am one of the proponents that school fees must be paid. However, there must be federal and state governments’ commitment to bursaries and loans as it is done in developed countries.
“They must give bursary and loans and in that case, you will balance the act. But the current feelings of ASUU that no fee should be charged, I think is not correct. I don’t agree with that,”he insisted.
He spoke further:”Go to many of these universities, their laboratories are dilapidated. If you want to do sciences, you must put the laboratories in the correct order and students must be involved in good scientific experiments.
” What does it profit a man to just have a certificate? What we have now is just purely giving certificates in many of the universities. So we must fund universities, it’s a very expensive venture. And there must be contributions from government, from the private sector and from parents.”
Speaking further on the ASUU strike, Prof. Ujah said, “I think what is happening at the moment is that there is a feeling that even the medical doctors are not being carried along. They are being neglected by ASUU and there is this disquiet on the issue of even forming their own association.
“My feeling and my take are that strikes are to create awareness so that the government or the responsible people will be awake to their responsibilities but if it becomes destructive, then it’s no longer useful.”
He advised that:”Both ASUU and the government must sit down.”
” Even in wars, like the ongoing one between Ukraine and Russia, they will eventually come to the roundtable to discuss, I think the earlier the better, because any strike that has gone beyond four weeks is no longer helpful, in my opinion.
“That is why you see that as a president of NMA, we had to moderate the strike action of NARD, we suspended it and they quickly followed up on the implementation. And I’m happy that most of our demands at the time were implemented. So, we didn’t have to go on three, four, five months strike. I feel that there should be a quick response,” he added.