By Adedapo Adesanya
The Senate has moved to block revenue leakages from medical tourism by coming up with a bill aimed to reduce the number of Nigerians travelling abroad for medical care.
In a bill titled Federal Medical Centres (Establishment) Bill, 2021 sponsored by Mrs Aishatu Ahmed (APC, Adamawa Central), on Thursday, the upper chamber of the parliament moved to effect structures that will stop the trend.
Leading debate on the bill, Mrs Ahmed said the absence of a legal framework for the regulation, development and management of Federal Medical Centers, which were established to render health services, was responsible for hindering the provision of intensive, effective and efficient health care services to the people of Nigeria.
According to the lawmaker, “this has led to a number of challenges in the health sector including but not limited to under-funding, weak facilities and infrastructure, poor motivation of health workers, low budget, weak accountability, conflicts with the political structure of the states and industrial strikes which has led to inadequacies, shortcomings and weaknesses which hinder effective health care delivery services.”
She noted that the passage of the bill will “reduce the number of Nigerians who have to go to other countries for medical care.”
The lawmaker lamented that “an average of 20,000 Nigerians travel to India each year for medical assistance due to the absence of a solid healthcare system at home.”
Senator Ahmed further noted that the piece of legislation would also sufficiently address remuneration of the employees of the Medical Centers which in turn would check the exodus of doctors and nurses to other countries.
“Seventy-seven per cent of black doctors in the US are Nigerians and there is rarely any top medical institution in the US or Europe where you don’t find Nigerians managing at the top level.
“Hardly a year passes without a major national strike by nurses, doctors, or health consultants. The major reasons for these strikes are poor salaries and lack of government investment in the health sector,” she said.
Citing a report of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, Mrs Ahmed stressed that the bill would “improve on the persistent rate of avoidable deaths of all Nigerians.”
“A recent UNICEF report has it that preventable or treatable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and HIV/AIDS account for more than 70 per cent of the estimated one million under-five deaths in Nigeria,” she said.
She added that with the right data, Nigeria would witness improvements in the health information system, regular and sustainable population and health-facility-based surveys; as well as have a centralized management of the many challenges of the 23 Federal Medical Centers in the country.
Contributing to the debate, Mr Yahaya Oloriegbe (APC, Kwara Central) said Federal Medical Centres were incapacitated as a result of the absence of legal backing establishing them and insufficient funding.
“We have about twenty-three Federal Medical Centres that were established across the country, but without legal backing.
“The consequence of such is that there are, what I will call policy somersault as regards the operations of these centres.
“You see some of the centres that have enough facilities and manpower to even be termed a Teaching Hospital, but because the legal framework did not state the standard, in terms of infrastructures, manpower and services, they remain like that, and it becomes at the whims and caprices of the policymakers in the Federal Ministry of Health.
“The consequences in terms of funding allocation, Federal Medical Centres receive less fund compared to Teaching Hospitals,” the lawmaker said.
On his part, Mr Ibn Na’Allah said the bill was timely as it seeks “to ensure that all institutions of government are governed by law.”
“We cannot continue to operate a democracy where public funds are disbursed to institutions that are not recognized by law. That is not right,” Mr Na’Allah added.
The bill, after scaling second reading, was referred to the Committee on Health by the Senate President, Mr Ahmad Lawan, for further legislative work.
The committee, which is chaired by Mr Oloriegbe, is expected to report back in four weeks.