Budget 2022: Betrayal of the health sector
The United States – the world’s most prosperous nation is a study in how capitalism unevenly distributes access to quality healthcare. Healthcare there is in the hands of the insurance companies who operate like a mafia thereby making it one of the most expensive in the world. Few people know that many Americans run to Mexico and South American countries for their healthcare needs. It is an open secret that more than one-third of American citizens use GoFundMe – the popular crowd funding website to raise funds to cater to their healthcare needs. One of the reasons why Barack Obama was voted in 2008 was because he pledged to make healthcare affordable to the Middle Class and the impoverished. Obamacare was similar to what obtained in Europe where most countries run a welfare state with affordable access to healthcare. Unfortunately, his successor Donald Trump scrapped it and took Americans back to square one.
President Muhammadu Buhari campaigned in 2015 to abrogate medical tourism but that promise has since been betrayed by him as London is now his second address.
The budgetary allocation in the 2022 budget is a miniscule 194.6 billion naira. Over the past three years (2019 – 2021), the health ministry received about 1.385.36 trillion naira. A breakdown of the figure shows that only 2,178 naira was allocated to each citizen based on the current population of about 206 million. This is highly unacceptable as what can an individual do with less than three thousand naira annually for his or her healthcare needs. It cannot even take care of ailments like malaria and typhoid which are common in the country. How cruel of the government!
The Abuja Declaration of 2001 recommended at least 15% of the budget to be allocated to the health sector. In the last twenty years we have fallen short of that figure and this year is no exception. Countries like the former war torn Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Swaziland, Togo and the Central African Republic have met the target while we are still pussyfooting. A large chunk of the budgetary allocation goes into recurrent expenditure while little is left for infrastructural development and capital expenditure which makes the noble jobs of healthcare workers extremely hazardous.
The contempt by the Buhari government for healthcare workers is extremely nauseating. What do you make out of the frequent strikes by the healthcare workers especially the doctors? Only recently the National Association of Resident Doctors embarked on a strike which lasted for over a month with the Labour Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige adding petrol to the fire when he said that there was no shortage of doctors in the country that they were free to go on economic exile as the country will still benefit from their sojourn abroad when they remit forex to their loved ones and friends. How insensitive and ironically coming from the lips of a medical doctor! In a sane country, he would have been fired on the spot but alas we are in a third world jungle where most members of the cabinet are treated like civil servants with job security.
In the defunct Second Republic, there was a law put in place by the then ruling National Party of Nigeria that the children of the elected members of the party should school in Nigeria. This made many of them including the then Vice President Alex Ekwueme bring back their children from abroad and make them school here. Why can’t the APC make a law prohibiting its members from getting treated abroad so that they will be forced to revamp our dead health sector? We recall the scandal of the absence of essential drugs in the Aso Rock Clinic despite the billions allocated there! As usual nobody was sanctioned because the elite run to Europe and America for common colds and slight headaches.
It is a gargantuan shame that the masses are reduced to online and offline mendicants when big ailments afflict them. India is now the beautiful bride for Middle Class Nigerians in search of medical solutions. We recall with tears in our eyes that once upon a time the University College Hospital Ibadan was the 5th best in the entire Commonwealth – so good was it that the then King of Saudi Arabia once sought treatment there. Today, it was Sahara Reporters that first broke the story of the death of Umaru Musa Yar’adua in a hospital there. How have the mighty fallen!
General Sani Abacha once referred to our hospitals as mere consulting clinics; today they are death chambers as many avoidable deaths have been recorded there. The late Mohammed Fawehinmi may not have died a cripple if he had been properly stabilized before his flight to the UK. There have been many well known cases of wrong diagnosis making a surreptitious mockery of a popular slogan in most hospitals ‘We treat but God heals.’
There are only eight federal neuro-psychiatric hospitals for millions of Nigerians with the ailment. Cancer patients are at the mercy of the elements as there are very few facilities to adequately treat them.
Former Governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the ruling APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu just returned into the country after a three month recuperation holiday in the UK from a knee surgery done in the US.
Health is wealth and nothing can be achieved by an ill man; we need public policies that can stop the brain drain in the sector. We need public-private partnerships for the building of world class hospitals that can treat all manner of diseases and put a stop to the medical tourism that sees billions of dollars leave our shores. We should keep that humongous sum here and use it to not only retain our medical talents but also attract the best of minds from the Diaspora. We need a radical leader that can revive the lost glory of our healthcare sector so that the poor and the wealthy alike can have access to the best healthcare locally.
There should be mandatory healthcare insurance like what obtains in Cuba and there should be a replication of the Cuban model in exporting its doctors abroad which has replaced sugar as its major revenue exchange earner since fossil fuels is rapidly going out of fashion and the knowledge economy is the new oil.
• Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos and can be reached on
email@example.com and 08167677075.