10 February 2013

Nigeria: Stakeholders Fault National Health Bill

Despite the enthusiasm that at last a Health Bill is being presented to the National Assembly, stakeholders have expressed worries over some sections of the proposed Bill.

Some of the stakeholders who spoke to THISDAY frowned at section 51, which they say represents a debasement of human values, which the rejected Health Bill of 2008, contained.

The section, according to Mrs. Ifeyinwa Awagu, a lawyer and feminine rights activist provides that a Health minister could grant the permission for the manipulation and transfer of human embryos.

According to Awagu, human life is too sacred and important to be left to the whims and caprices of a health minister.

She noted that the implications of Section 51 among others raises political, social, ethical and practical concerns. It states that a person shall not without the prior written approval of the Minister manipulate any genetic material, including genetic material of human gametes, zygotes or embryos; or engage in any activity, including nuclear transfer or embryo splitting, for the purpose of the reproductive cloning of a human being.

It also states that no person shall import or export human zygotes or embryos without the prior written approval of the Minister on the recommendation of National Ethics Research Committee.

It states that any person who contravenes a provision of this section or who fails to comply therewith is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a minimum of five years with no option of fine.

Ifeyinwa stressed that "prohibitive as this may read, it implies that cloning and embryonic stem cells research are not prohibited; because all that is required is the Ministers approval.

"Given that the Minister's appointment has political undertones and affinity, refusal of the approval is not guaranteed. Reproductive cloning which is one of the most troubling applications of human biotechnologies is a demonstration of no respect for our core values and worth of the human person."

"Though a few countries such as Canada and United Kingdom regulate jurisdiction and enforcement in this regard through specific government agency; many countries opt for total prohibition. Nigeria needs to expunge Section 51 from NHB 2012. The bill should be a health bill really and truly and not a death bill, " she said.

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