By Chuks Okocha
Apopular cliché has it that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. That is to say that health is indeed wealth and it resonates that any responsible government will ensure that all necessary laws and policies are put in place towards enhancing access to healthcare by citizens.
A good healthcare delivery system in Nigeria will not only help in bringing to an end medical tourism but will reduce the depletion of scare foreign exchange in the country. As part of their core legislative duties, federal lawmakers have made issues of efficient and effective health service to citizens become a priority in the agenda of the National Assembly.
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 the provision of 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 reason for this is to help tackle the rot in the education sector. Not only from the consolidated revenue, a percentage of profits recorded by private companies goes towards the rehabilitation of the education sector.
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 provision 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.
“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,” he said.
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.
“In addition, we must find a way to reverse another negative trend in the system, which is the gradual loss of our doctors and brightest brains to foreign medical institutions. This drain in medical expertise is plain to see, and should be a major concern for all of us. In acknowledging the feats and strides of our citizens in the diaspora, we must also recognise the need to build, harness and sustain local content. We cannot achieve our collective goals as a people without developing this country to the point where we are self-sufficient.
“Let me assure you all that we in the National Assembly are always focused toward policies that positively affect the lives of the average Nigerian. In so doing, amongst other duties, we seek to provide not just the legislative framework but the political will for institutions such as yours to get things done,” he said
—Okocha is a Special Assistant to the Senate President on Media