Senate set for showdown with Presidency over National Health Act
The Senate and the Ministry of Health may be heading for a showdown over the failure of the government to provide for the implementation of the National Health Act two years after it was enacted.
Also, the Senate wants the ministry to make provisions for the treatment of over 1. 9 million acutely malnourished children across the country. The demands may serve as conditions for passing the 2017 Federal Ministry of Health budget.
Without the right systems, processes and funds in place, the dream of a universal health coverage will be unattainable, the Lead Director at the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, told The Guardian yesterday.
He said: “It is a verifiable fact that Nigeria is nowhere near the attainment of universal health coverage. More funding, innovation and change are required in the sector if we are to meet the goal of the UHC.”
The National Health Act was enacted in 2014 to ensure improved health outcomes, to provide legal framework for the provision of healthcare services and to establish an organisational and management structure for the health system in the country.
To achieve the objective of providing quality healthcare, the Act specifies that all Nigerians shall be entitled to a Basic Minimum Package of Health Services (BMPHS), a set of preventive, protective, promotive, curative and rehabilitative health services or interventions.
But two years after it was passed, the government has not made provisions for its implementation in its yearly budget, prompting concerns from stakeholders.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Olanrewaju Tejuoso, who spoke at the Nigerian nutrition communication workshop in Abuja yesterday stressed the need to make provisions for the implementation of the Act in 2017. He berated the executive arm for failing to provide for the Health Act in the 2017 budget and insisted that the situation must change.
“We had a policy dialogue a few days ago where we mentioned specific things that we wanted the government to do, and we acknowledged the support of our development partners, the World Bank, UNICEF, Dangote Group as well as Bill and Melinda Gates. If these people can be so passionate about Nigeria, we Nigerians must do better. That is the first message,” he noted.
On why the National Health Act should be implemented, the senator said: “There are certain laws that we have passed in the National Assembly where there are minimum expectations from the government. If we cannot obey our own laws, we might as well go home by doing nothing. Specifically, we said one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund must be allocated to the basic health need. This is the law of Nigeria.
“When we had two people identified with polio in the North East, immediately, funding came. Polio received so much money compared to malnutrition that is killing 1500 children daily. Polio doesn’t kill anybody if you don’t get the fund. Though we don’t want the children to be deformed, but I just want to tell you that malnutrition that is killing 1,500 daily is not receiving the attention compared to what polio receives.”
The Head of Nutrition at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Chris Osa Isokpunwu, stressed that 2.5 million children were severely malnourished and 11 million stunted.
He confirmed that the Senate had requested that the ministry should include N96 billion for nutrition in the 2017 budget.
He explained: “We were part of the team that prepared that estimate. I am sure we have seen the budget that was presented last week. The Federal Ministry of Health got a budget allocation of N51 billion. I have not really seen the breakdown yet. We were asked to put N96 billion, we have N51 billion. Of course, you know that that has not been done.
“But, there are reasons. Ministries are given envelopes within which they work. So, the Ministry of Finance says Health, this is your envelop, you can’t exceed this. You also have to allocate resources within that envelop that you’ve been given. Nutrition is not the only priority. There are lots of competing priorities.”