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How demand for custom duties on donated drugs denied Nigerians with cardiac cases free surgeries in Enugu

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University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu State


The demand for payment of custom duties or approval of waiver from the Federal Ministry of Finance has robbed over 20 indigent Nigerians with complex cardiac cases opportunity for free open heart surgeries at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku –Ozalla, Enugu State.

This follows the seizure of cartons of consumables worth millions of naira meant for their surgeries by custom officials over non-payment of duties or presentation of waiver from the federal government.The Consumables were donation by charity organizations based in the United Kingdom to assist in the medical mission of free open heart surgeries of a non-governmental organization, The Save A Foundation, also based in the UK.

The Guardian gathered that the affected indigent persons were among the 87 others diagnosed of various forms of heart deformities and were billed to undergo surgeries to be handled by the UK medical experts at the UNTH. However, the 13-man team of surgeons from the UK, billed to perform the surgeries had arrived Nigeria last Monday only to have their consumables meant for the surgeries seized by customs.

For four days, the exercise was delayed as the medical experts could not lay hands on the items on the insistence of customs that duties must be paid on the donated medical items. The foreign experts who returned to base on Tuesday from Enugu could only attend to 10 cases.
 
Reacting to the development, National Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Customs Services, DCC Joseph Attah, said the agency should not be held responsible for the delay in releasing the donated medical items, stressing that there were guidelines for items imported into the country, which were not followed.

“If the items were donated and proper application was made to the Federal Ministry of Finance and waiver approved, customs would not hold them for one minute. But where that was not made and payment was expected, we will also release them immediately payment was made. In the instance case, we never delay materials once duties are paid. So somebody somewhere may not have done what is expected of him,” Attah told The Guardian.

But leader of the team, Dr. Onyekwere Nzewi, who narrated the incident to reporters, said the delay in releasing the items affected the chances of many indigent patients from receiving free treatment for their heart diseases, stressing that he was worried because there was need to urgently give attention to their cases to avoid the unexpected.
 
“I have never seen a thing like that before in my over 30 years of practice; people coming in for a charity project and the cartons containing their drugs were held on the ground that we have to pay duty or apply for waiver and whichever way you look at it, it was so delayed that eventually the hospital decided to pay duty on a few of the donated items.

“These were items donated freely to assist indigent Nigerians who have very complex heart diseases and who cannot afford treatment in the private hospitals or anywhere overseas. Now they have missed the opportunity and I am afraid, a good number of them may not live for too long due to the nature of the case.”

UNTH chairman, Cardiothoracic Centre of Excellence, Prof. Basden Onwubelu, called on the federal government to grant easier access to experts on medical exercise as a way of helping the system, adding that the centre had through their assistance carried out over 300 open heart surgeries since 2013.
He said it would not augur well for the health system in the country should the foreign donors quit as a result of difficult and stringent measures over imports into the country.


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Joseph AttahUNTH
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