By Yinka Shokunbi Assistant Life Editor
The National Health Bill 2011has no doubt suffered serious setbacks since it was introduced as a priority bill to establish an act to provide a framework for the regulation, development and management of a National Health System and set standards for rendering health services in the federation.
Hitherto, the country had operated a healthcare system that was not coordinated, one that had no minimum standard for consumers and only haphazardly funded because there was no legal instrument to compel government to provide social or medical security for the citizens of the country.
Nigerians, it has been argued, needed nobody to prompt them to demand for such a legal weapon since the only legal document, the Constitution, which is the spirit of the people, has no provision for healthcare delivery for them.
And so, patients in emergency situations such as those with gunshot wounds or in critical condition resulting from accidents, and in many instances too unregistered or un-booked pregnant women, have been refused emergency medical attention at the discretion of medical personnel for unknown fears.
At certain instances, the sick that have no out-of-pocket resource to pay for healthcare is denied medical attention and oftentimes resort to either alternative care or self medication which eventually lead to sudden death, thereby increasing mortality indices of the country.
However, following the 2000 UN ranking of the country as 187th among 191 countries due to poor health indices, there was a reawakening by government to immediately do something, thus the journey towards the birth of the National Health Bill.
In 2004, the first draft of the Bill went before the National Assembly and it suffered setbacks and backlash but, by 2011, it managed to scale the passage of the Assembly only to be nailed at the Presidency because President Goodluck Jonathan failed to assent his signature due to unclear reasons.
Now, the Bill which has been represented before the Seventh Section of the NASS has had its first public hearing and, from all indications, it appears another round of open attack may be brewing especially among stakeholding operators on composition of Technical Committees and sundry issues.
The Senate and the core stakeholders were on Monday sharply divided over the composition of the National Health Council Technical Committee saddled with the responsibilities of managing the country health system.
During the one-day open hearing on the floor of the Assembly, while the Senate Committee on Health insisted that the status quo be maintained, the professional groups insisted on the inclusion of their representatives in the composition of the committee.
It thus appeared that the healthcare providers have yet to learn that the general population of the country is bigger than their common interests even though they are at the centre of patients’ care and have all sworn to uphold the dignity of life.
It was reported that Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who also chaired the occasion, expressed dismay at the various groups demand for the inclusion of their representatives in the council, saying it smirks of selfish interests of the various groups.
Declaring open the public hearing, Senate President, David Mark, represented by his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, said the Senate was working towards speedy passage of the “important” Health Bill and subsequent assent by the President.
He had appealed to all the stakeholders in the health sector to settle the rift among them over the bill in the interest of all Nigerians whose interests are greater in the content of the bill.
Okowa explained that the bill is not about the professional groups but about the health system of the country and Nigerians at large, adding that if every group has to be represented then the members of the technical committee will be over-bloated and uncontrollable.
At a point, the chairman said he would prefer to allow Nigerians who are directly affected by the Bill to speak for themselves rather than allowing groups whose membership no matter how large cannot be compared to the number of Nigerians.
Speaking to our correspondent on the need to make a speedy passage of the bill whose life is again being threatened, Country Director of Ipas Nigeria, Dr. Ejike Oji, believes there is a headway already even though there were a lot of bickering within the healthcare workers, “but there has been some level of harmonisation of views, interests taken care of except that there is a reverberation of people calling it an Abortion Bill, which is very ridiculous because there is nothing like abortion in that bill”
He urged the media to play the strategic role of informing the people on the content of the bill and why it is in their interest to ensure their representatives are mobilised to pass the bill.
According to him, “If the media can fully show what that Health Bill contains, let the whole world see it, then people who are trying to be mischievous to label it another thing would be silenced because for that bill not being passed a lot of people whose lives would have been saved died, which is unfortunate.”
He added, “Not everybody would be able to go to the NASS and it is not everybody that knows what the bill contains; it’s the media that would strategically take it to scale, inform people and provide the medium for people to express their opinions on the bill and in that way our representatives will know it is a people’s bill and see the reason to pass it judiciously.”