•Says it’s time for compulsory health insurance for citizens
•Varsity education not sustainable without fee, Prof. Ujah disagrees with ASUU
•Says medical lecturers contemplating detaching from union over effects of prolonged strike
By Joseph Erunke
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 intended to tackle the problem.
He also called on the federal government to, as a matter of urgency, provide compulsory health insurance for the citizens.
“Without a successful compulsory health insurance,we can never generate enough revenue to tackle the health challenges,” he said.
Noting that the health sector was progressively deteriorating, 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 on the occasion of Nigerian Academy of Medicine’s 2022 Annual Lecture, with the theme “2023 and Beyond-Setting the Health Agenda.
He said: “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’.
“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 analyse 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 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.”
Noting also that the reversal of the nation’s poor health indices was by improving the funding and the services, he said “this is because you cannot improve the services without adequate funding.”
He decried the proliferation of health centres by government at all levels without consolidating on existing ones, saying the development was negatively impacting on 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.
Prof. Ohaegbulam regretted that the federal government had not implemented the many reports of committees set up to find solutions to the nation’s declining health sector.
He added: “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 because 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 equipment we are negotiating for now and the bill we are being given is almost N1 billion, just one equipment, one machine! So,how can you run a health service with the kind of budget they keep releasing every year?”
Dwelling more on health insurance, Prof. Ohaegbulam noted that without a successful, compulsory health insurance, ”we can never generate enough revenue to tackle the health challenges.
“There has to be a compulsory health insurance and if people can’t afford to pay, then government can help them, 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 into 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 a vehicle insurance where people are never convinced that it is necessary, they think they can get away with it until they have accident, then they see it as 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 on the street to subscribe but government can take over that responsibility to help those people by paying their own insurance.”
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 contended that adequate funds must be committed to university education in the country, 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.
He said: “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 university education. ASUU’s 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 bursary 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 spoke further:”Go to many of these universities,their laboratories are dilapidated. If you want to do sciences, you must put the laboratories in correct order and students must be involved in good scientific experiment.
” 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.”
“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 is that strike is to create awareness so that the government or the responsible people will be awake to their responsibilities but if it becomes destructive, them it’s no longer useful.”
He advised both ASUU and the government to sit down.and trash out issues, so students could return to school.
” 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’s why you see that as president of NMA, we had to moderate the strike 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 there should be a quick response,” he added.