‘No public official should be treated abroad with government money’
Dr. Chiedozie Achonwa is the chairman of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). Achonwa spoke to NKECHI ONYEDIKA-UGOEZE on issues affecting the healthcare system in Nigeria as the 58th Annual General Conference and delegates meeting of the NMA opens in Abuja and of which he is the organising committee chairman .
How would assess the Nigerian Healthcare system?
The Nigerian Healthcare system is at a crossroads, when we talk about the healthcare system, it means the primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare. In Nigeria, we have a situation where the primary health care has virtually collapsed and when that happens, a lot of pressure will be on secondary and the tertiary Health system. When we talk about the tertiary Health care, it appears some of the tertiary hospitals are still operating at the secondary healthcare levels because some of the sophisticated equipment needed to work at that level are not available. We still need to do a lot to improve our health care system.
Why the choice of ‘Quality Healthcare, an indicator for good governance’ as the theme of the conference?
They say health is wealth, most times our political leaders during campaign period talk about water, light, education in their manifestos and only few talk about health but we are trying to use this conference to raise the consciousness of Nigerians to start asking questions about the healthcare. Nigeria ranks 171 out of 181 on the World Health Organisation health (WHO) index, yet our political tell us that we are the largest economy in Africa but if we are truly the largest economy in Africa, how come we this backward? Of course, you know what happened in this country recently when our President was not feeling fine and they were running Helter Skelter.
Nigeria has one of the highest burdens of diseases in the world, what is responsible for this?
We don’t have a robust healthcare system that should be able to deal with all these. When you talk about infant mortality, about two third of those who die within the first one years of life, die within the first one month of life and about two third of those who die within the first one month of life, die at the first day of life. If we can have a situation where we can train those people at the rural level who take care of children on how to take care of children at birth, it will reduce this issue of infant mortality. For us in the NMA, we are working to reduce this issue of infant mortality.
Are you comfortable with low budget for the health sector?
Fortunately, one of the topics we are going to discuss in this conference is “Budgeting for Healthcare, the Nigerian Experience. It is going to be a panel discussion and we intend to bring the legislators, the executive, the Civil Society so that we can brainstorm on this issue of health financing and budgeting for health in Nigeria. African Heads of State during Obasanjo’s era agreed that 15 percent of their budgets be dedicated to health, the best we have gotten was during Obasanjo’s administration and it was about eight percent. It is one thing to budget; another thing to release the money and to use what has been released. The question we should ask is how well has the money released been used? Budgeting is good but let’s start from blocking the loopholes and identify what the money budgeted has been used for. It is not as if they shouldn’t increase the budget. Another sub theme is the “National Health Act, Four Years After “, it appears to me that government is not sincere because the Act was passed Four years ago and up till now, nothing has happened. That shows you that government is not serious about the health sector may be because when they are sick, they fly out of the country.
Should the country now enact a law prohibiting public office holders from seeking medical abroad?
Who are the people that make the law? Is it not the same people who fly out of the country for medical treatment? If you bring it up they will kill it. When the present administration came, they made a pronouncement that no public official should be treated abroad with government money but unfortunately we saw what happened. If the President had imported medical equipment the time he was sick and take care of himself in Nigeria, we would have been able to push through that kind of pronouncement but if you make a law and you are the first person to flout the law, what happens to other people? They will think you are not serious. We have a big problem in Nigeria and the earlier we start identifying those problems, and see how we can fix them, the better for all of us.
What is your take on brain drain being experienced in the Nigerian health sector?
Of course, you don’t blame the doctors who are moving out of the country for better opportunities. As the Chairman of NMA, I we have had cause to visit our colleagues in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Camp and each time I talk to them, I tell them that anyone that has the opportunity should leave the country, it is as simple as that, You cannot be more patriotic than the government. It took some of them three years to get a place for Housemanship and you expect that person to continue to stay in Nigeria. When you also talk about pay, of course, we have what we call migration of labour and pay is very important. They go to where they have good health care system that works we need to see how we can rescue the healthcare system. In our country today a section of workers in the hospitals are on strike. Of all their demands, they said if only one can be met, and what is that? They said if only they can earn the same thing like doctors. There is nowhere in the world where people who do different things earn the same thing. If you want to earn like a doctor, study and be a doctor, if you want to be a Senator, contest and become one, these are some of the things some people will see and decide to leave the country for a place with a better health system.
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