The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, has called on the federal government to urgently organise a national summit on health.
The Sultan made the call when the minister of health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, paid him a courtesy call while on a two-day inspection and commissioning of 230 primary health centres built by the state government in Sokoto.
The royal father also told the visiting minister that, in Sokoto, there is no indigene or non-indigene segregation.
He said, "In Sokoto here, we are one big family; we are our brother's keepers. We do not have any discrimination whatsoever. In fact, Governor Wamakko pays the school fees of all schoolchildren irrespective of wherever they come from. In Sokoto we don't have indigene or non-indigene."
Because health is wealth, the Sultan said, a health summit would provide the needed opportunity for stakeholders to dialogue and chart a good roadmap on how best to ensure the health welfare of the people.
While explaining the role of religious and traditional leaders in sensitizing their subjects on health-related issues, the Sultan said, "When the issue of polio came up after all the controversies in 2003-2004, we decided to take this issue more seriously by setting up a committee from the 19 northern states and Abuja, which I named Northern Traditional Rulers' Committee on Primary Health Care. And, for the past years that the committee has been working, we have achieved a lot in terms of taking control of the polio outbreak. We have received commendations from the United Nations, the Bill Gates Foundation and so many people. We are committed to that, no matter what setback we have."
He said there is no going back on polio eradication, adding that they will continue to give their total support to the programme. "We must concentrate more on primary health care and that is why we believe that government must equip more primary health care centres in the villages and towns because, if these hospitals were working, sometimes you might not even need the teaching hospital. Because little ailments grow up to major ones," he said.
"Therefore, we need to encourage the government to do more because there is still more to be done. We need to enlighten people what health is all about. People do not even care to go to hospital. We have even forced pregnant women to go for antenatal. We had to tell them the importance of antenatal checkups and, I think, people are getting more enlightened now. And I think that is our duty and we will continue to partner with you to achieve that.
"We also want to see a synergy between the Federal Ministry of Health which is the father of all health institutions in this country. Let them organise one big summit and invite everybody who have a hand in health care - from NAFDAC, NHIS, and everybody - for us to fashion out a roadmap on what we should do as regards total health-care coverage in this country."
On the need for synergy, the Sultan noted, "When institutions are allowed to be independent without reporting to people, then, definitely there are going to be problems sometimes. And I think all health-care institutions should really come together to discuss all these issues and come up with a roadmap or policy which the president will say, yes, this is a policy worthy of support and whoever comes will continue with that policy.
"We do not educate people on government policies. Therefore, somebody who has a problem does not know where to go to or who to approach because we do not know something like that exists. Therefore, there is the need for the federal ministries and organisations to always publicize their activities to the public. Tell us what you have and what we are supposed to hold you responsible for. And I think if that one is done a lot of people will be much wiser when it comes to so many issues in this country."
Speaking on HIV/AIDS, the Sultan said the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs has a document on HIV/AIDS and, as leaders "these are things that we are all concerned about because it affects our people.
"If you are not healthy you cannot even worship the Almighty Allah. Therefore, the issue of polio, HIV/AIDS and any other one is our concern and we will continue to collaborate with you to achieve the needed standard on health for every Nigerian.