President Muhammadu Buhari’s medical trip to the United Kingdom has returned to the front burner the need for Nigerian hospitals to be equipped in line with global best practices, a foremost virologist and infectious disease expert, Prof. Olawale Tomori, and other health professionals have said.
Their intervention comes as THISDAY’s investigation shows that the federal government budgeted N2.55 trillion for the health sector from 2015 to 2019.
However, the figure is below the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommendation, which is nine per cent of the country’s N59.660 trillion for the six years, amounting to N5.4 trillion.
This is despite the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the private sector’s intervened in the country’s health sector by providing additional funds during the period under review.
Buhari yesterday left Abuja for London for a routine medical check-up.
He is due back in the country in the second week of April.
Reacting to the frequent foreign medical trip of Nigerian political leaders, Tomori told THISDAY yesterday that the successful performance of the country’s health sector would need trained professionals with reliable, dedicated, trustworthy and committed support.
“It is also about infrastructural resources; facilities, equipment supplies, reliable electricity etc. You need both. Nigeria has talented people but not the enabling and conducive environment for the talented people to function efficiently and maximally. This is our problem,” he said.
President of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Uyilawa Okuaihesuyi, also told THISDAY that most major hospitals in the country lack basic equipment to deliver effective healthcare.
“In most hospitals in Nigeria, you cannot find any that equals the global best practices. In most of these hospitals, you can hardly find the basic tool to work. I give you an example, in any hospital abroad, you have the MRI system, which is the basic tool for initiating patient’s treatment but in most federal health institutions, you can hardly find any in a functional state,” he said.
He said it appeared that the government did not pay attention to the health sector funding and infrastructure development as it often said.
“It is sad that rather than take a serious look at how the country’s health sector can be revitalised and funded properly, our leaders find it more comfortable to jet out to other countries for medical treatment,” he said.
Speaking on the grievances that led to the threat by resident doctors to embark on strike, Okuaihesuyi accused the government of neglecting their welfare to the extent that many of the doctors doing their housemanship are being owed up to four months’ salaries.
He stated that government has not fulfilled the promise to raise doctors’ hazard allowance pegged at N5, 000.
Okuaihesuyi said NARD decided to give an ultimatum to the government because the Memorandum of Understanding entered with the federal government is yet to be implemented many months after it was signed.
He added that the government has not concluded action on the enrolment of the doctors on the health insurance scheme as part of measures to cushion the hazardous impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Infectious Disease Control, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, told THISDAY: “Our doctors are among the best in the world,” adding: “Their only handicap is the absence of world-class medical equipment and incentives. Once the government can handle this, our Nigerian Diaspora doctors will have no option than to head home back to Nigeria.”
Utazi stated that the health needs of an individual, no matter whosoever is involved, are personal and private between the person and the medical doctor of his choice.
“It is psychological. It has to do with mindset and trust. As it concerns President Muhammadu Buhari, it is the same. It’s his choice and I feel Nigerians should oblige him. All that we need to do is to pray for his good health and wish him well. My concern is that the federal government must prioritise health and education as the main thrust of this administration,” Utazi said.
Chairman of the Resident Doctors at LUTH, Dr. Hassan Oluwafemi, also said a visit to government hospitals in most parts of the country would explain why Nigerian leaders embarked on foreign medical trips.
He said: “If you compare what you see in our hospitals with what you see in foreign hospitals when you are watching movies, you will see that there is no basis for comparison in terms of facilities, equipment and working instruments.
“In terms of experience, Nigerian doctors at home can stand firm in competition with any other doctor elsewhere but the equipment to work with is not there. The gadgets are not available because of underfunding of the health sector. Doctors have been talking about this over the years but we have not seen any change.”
He said government officials know that the facilities are not there at home, adding that that is why they run to foreign hospitals to get medical attention for even the simplest ailment.
According to him, the government is aware that it has not made enough investment in the health sector.
“They know that their hospitals are in a shambles and when there is no investment, and then you can’t get the right treatment because doctors don’t work in a vacuum.
“The way forward, is to let them invest massively in the health sector and monitor money or fund released for investment in the sector. Nigerian masses should also put pressure on their government to invest in the sector that is the only way forward otherwise, they will keep on running to foreign hospitals to meet the same category of doctors they have at home,” he added.
Immediate past President of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwife (NANN), Mr. Adeniji Alani, also told THISDAY that the frequent medical trips abroad by Nigerian leaders showed that the government has failed to drive the policies that would improve the quality of healthcare and restore the confidence of the people.
Alani said the high rate of medical tourism by Nigeria’s political leaders was a direct reflection of the policy failure in the country’s health sector.
He said it was also evidence of failure in the implementation of measures to improve standard of healthcare infrastructure and manpower.
Alani noted that despite all the professed interests by various administrations to improve the situation of the health sector not much has been realised in terms of infrastructure development and manpower.
For instance, he said out of the projected 800,000 nurses required to cater for the over 200 million Nigerian population, only 250,000 professionals are available.
Alani said more qualified nurses were leaving the country for greener pastures due to poor remuneration and conditions of service.
“Our policies are not coordinated; both the formulation and implementation are always lopsided. If people are going out of the country to seek medical treatment, it is a reflection of the level of efficiency in policy formulation in our health sector and how its implementation has resulted in accessible and affordable healthcare services in the country. We cannot get it right the way things are now,” he said.
The WHO’s recommended benchmark of national budget for the health sector in developing countries is between nine per cent and 13 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
However, Alani said that the country’s budget for the health sector has remained six per cent and below, adding that this year’s budget was a paltry four per cent.
The federal government budgeted N2.555 trillion for health from 2015 to 2021 out of a total budget of N59.660 trillion.
However, nine per cent of this total budget which was the recommendation of WHO is N5.4 trillion.
Obinna Chima, Nume Ekeghe, Ebere Nwoji in Lagos and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja