President Buhari's Health and the Nigeria's Health Sector: Matters Arising! -Ishola Adebayo

May 11, 2018

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, May 8th, 2018 took another four-day trip to the United Kingdom to see his doctor. The presidential spokesman, Malan Garba Shehu, stated that the doctor requested the president to return for a meeting which he (Buhari) agreed to do.

It is important to stress that Nigeria needs someone who would be at alert 24 hours not someone that would be sleeping while the country is on fire. President Buhari is not doing what he is preaching, he told Nigerians that he won’t be travelling abroad for medical treatment but that is exactly what he is doing now.

More worrisome is that Prof. Isaac Adewole, Nigeria’s health minister who for more than 24 months can hardly lay claim to any significant impact on the country’s health sector. As a matter of fact, on more than one occasion last year, various medical unions, including the Nigerian Medical Association, which he belongs to, raised questions about his effectiveness in office.

An umbrella body of health workers, the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) has embarked on an indefinite strike which has paralyzed activities in all health institutions across the country. All federal government health institutions in Nigeria including federal medical centres, specialists’ hospitals, orthopedic hospitals, psychiatric hospitals among others have been forced to shut down due to the latest industrial action while President Buhari is in London attending to his own health condition.

On the website of the Federal Ministry of Health where Prof. Adewole is honcho, there is a list of 44 tertiary health facilities comprising 20 teaching hospitals and 24 federal medical centres, a number of which should have been able to handle the condition of President Buhari upon which the health minister sits on a team of experts in a private hospital! But these medical institutions have remained that only in name. Two years ago, it was widely reported that budgetary allocations to all these facilities were dwarfed by the provision made for a sole facility known as the Aso Rock Clinic, so they have remained mere skeletons of the ideal.

What has happened to the implementation of the National Health Bill, 2014 for example? How much has been achieved with the penetration of the National Health Insurance Scheme and the expansion of the programme to include ordinary Nigerians, what are the plans of this government to improve Nigerians’ access to health information as an important ingredient for preventive care?

Another important issue is the welfare and conditions of service for medical personnel in the country. Just recently, Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Olumuyiwa Odusote, raised the alarm about the exodus of doctors from Nigeria.

According to him, while more than 40,000 of the 75,000 registered Nigerian doctors, practise abroad, 70 per cent of those in-country are actively seeking more profitable outlets.

Odusote put out such alarming figures that have not been contradicted by any other authority to the effect that 100 doctors resigned from the services of the University College Hospital, Ibadan, in 2017 while about 800 doctors left their jobs in Lagos State hospitals in the last two years! The implication for this, he explained, is that the average new patient in Nigeria needs to wait for two weeks to see a doctor. That is a period within which a lot of cases would be beyond redemption.

Now, the emigration of these doctors and medical personnel is not just due to insufficient wages but also about the parlous and tedious conditions of work. While the rest of the world, including countries like India and South Africa, parade first class medical equipment that aid diagnostics and treatment, Nigeria relishes in obsolesce. One dangerous effect of this is that negligence and errors, which largely go unpunished, have become a regular occurrence in the health sector.

It is hoped that the Buhari's led federal government with a year before the expiration of this current tenure will be able to do the needful to use the surgical knife in rescuing the nation’s decaying healthcare system.