Daily Trust (Abuja)

18 January 2013

Nigeria: Senate and Fate of the National Health Bill

opinion

After undergoing several legislative protocols for seven years and many months later in the presidency without been signed into law, Nigeria's health bill is back to the National Assembly for a fresh round legislative process. Considering the obstacles the bill suffered in the previous years, number of questions are being raised by those concerned about the bill.

They include the following: What stops Mr. President from signing the bill? Who are behind the presidential attitude? Do our leaders really have a concern towards revolutionizing the country's health industry? Will this bill gets the final approval of the National assembly members, when one look at the period it's consumed within the lawmakers before it was passed? Is the National Health Bill an executive bill or a private bill?

According to the 1999 constitution, after 30 days of the President's inaction on the Bill, the bill is to be recalled to the National Assembly for a two-thirds majority vote to override the inaction of the president to sign it into law.

During the recent reading, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Gyang Dantong, who died last year in one of the outbreaks of violence in Jos, and ten of his colleagues that spoke about the bill, made encouraging comments. It was interesting for the fact that the senators have clearly exhibited their much interest about the bill considering its importance to the common citizen.

Most of the Senators that contributed before the Senate floor, lamented over none assenting of the bill by the executive arm of government. Out of over the ten senators that make their submission about the bill only one senator cautioned the senate from passing the second reading of the bill.

Some of the senators decried over billions of naira being spent annually by citizens for foreign medical trip, citing the recent hospitalization of Taraba state governor, Mr Danbaba Suntai who sustained serious injury in a plane crash. Some senators in their contributions before the senate chamber asked the federal government to declare the state of emergency on the health sector considering the deteriorating condition of both public and private health institutions in the country.

The senators said the problem of Nigeria in respect to the bill was not the in existence of the law rather poor commitment of our leaders addressing the problems in our health sector by investing and implementing the entire requirement for health facilities to meet the standard.

"Our country claims to be giant of Africa, but we are one of the few countries in the region that were backward in our health sector. None of the previous government of the country neither military nor civilian has made any serious attempt to address our health sector problem, Senator Abubakar Bagudo noted.

Senator Nenadi Usman also observed that "we spent a lot of resources on MDGs 4 and 5 with poor outcome. This bill will help in achieving MDGs 4 and 5".

The bill was unanimously passed for the second time and gave the health committee four weeks within which to report back to the senate for third reading.

The National Health Bill is an important tool aimed at addressing funding gap in the health sector and ensures improved quality of healthcare at all levels. The bill is also meant at strengthening Nigeria's weak health system, which the World Health Organisation has described as the fourth worst health system globally, and will also entrench primary care as the entry point for health care and guarantee basic minimum package for patients. Nigeria, through use the on-going consideration of the National Health Bill and the implementation of the Bill by the government to ensure Universal Health Coverage, and the embedding of immunization, nutrition, enough health workers etc in a comprehensive primary care system.

There are many other benefits to: Free medical care for children less than five years old, pregnant mothers, the elderly above 65 and people with disabilities; guarantee basic minimum health package for all Nigerians, permit universal acceptance of accident cases by all health facilities in Nigeria -- public or private; and ensure the quality of health care services through the issuance of Certificates of Standard to all health institutions.

Nigerians wait to see whether the recent efforts by the senate to pass the bill to the executive would this time around yield positive results.

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