By Ife Osemedua
Nothing in recent history has exposed the dire nature of the health sector in Nigeria as COVID-19 pandemic has done since the outbreak of the deadly corona virus over a year ago. There is a wide held perception, among the people that the pandemic seemingly undressed Nigeria’s ugly healthcare delivery system and brought to the fore the pathetic underbelly of its many inadequacies in the areas of infrastructure, equipment and management.
Many have opined that one of the key indicators to gauge the condition and level of development of a nation, is the nature and ‘health’ of its health sector, essentially, in terms of the level of accessibility, reliability and effectiveness in healthcare delivery, to the citizenry.
Seemingly, the political class and the privileged few in the society, have unwittingly told the world and the rest of the Nigerian populace, that Nigeria’s healthcare delivery is perhaps neither reliable nor effective, going by their penchant preference for foreign medical tourism.
Many who chose to seek medical attention in the country, also often make private hospitals their preference, apparently as a result of the easier accessibility and the speedy service delivery, even though their services may come at a cost that that are sometimes out of the reach of many.
That perhaps accounts for why in the estimation of many, especially medical practitioners in private practice, and the teeming populace that benefit from their services, “The Private Doctors of Nigeria are the uncelebrated and the unsung heroes of the Nigerian healthcare system.” And therefore, should be accorded more recognition by the government, as key partners in the development of Nigeria’s healthcare system.
These issues and how best to improve the healthcare system, through effective partnership with the private sector, formed the crux of the discourse, when the Secretary to the Government of Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, received the executives of the Association of the General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN), who were in his office recently on an advocacy and sensitization visit for the forthcoming centenary anniversary of the association that would be marked on May 25, 2021, in Abuja.
Dr. Iyke Odo, the AGPMPN President had at the occasion, decried the fact that private doctors do not benefit from government incentives that would show that their efforts in taking care of the over 70 per cent of the healthcare needs of the people in the country is appreciated.
He said : “We are not recognized, our role is not appreciated, the government has no deliberate policy to support the Private Sector Doctors as it is done in other climes, we enjoy no incentives, such as tax waivers, subsidies, grants, not even friendly bank loans, special utility tariffs, import duty concessions for hospital imports etc.
“We have done so much and still do so much for our dear country silently and with commitment, often, struggling against tense and harsh economic odds that limit excellence and productivity.”
He pointed out that a typical example of the neglect on the private health sector “was demonstrated more openly during the peak of the first phase of the Covid-19 infection when Private Doctors were excluded from participating in treating Covid patients at a time when the rest of the world was mobilizing their entire medical force to war irrespective of public-private divide and providing PPEs accordingly.”
We the Private Doctors who, he said, “are indeed, the authentic front lines workers that face undiagnosed persons who may be Covid positive in the clinics, suffered great losses in men and material without any form of support or a kind word. We had to buy PPEs at runaway costs and pay many times over for drugs, consumables and medical devices to the extent that many facilities could not recover from the impact.
“We crave the indulgence of the honorable SGF to use his good offices to add his voice to the advocacy to harmonize our public and private health sectors for the greater good of Nigerians.
“We most humbly remind the honourable SGF that the world over, the health system depends on the private sector and that without paying adequate attention to them, we may never succeed with getting our health system to work. We need to be supported as we are prepared and willing.”
Dr. Odo went further to make a case for a specialized bank that would cater for the needs of the medical sector. “We need a health bank for Nigeria to provide single digit loans for long tenures and long moratorium to support and grow the sector,
as has been done to some sectors of the economy. The health sector deserves a bailout fund through a Presidential Intervention Fund.
“We regret to inform you sir that the intervention loan approved for the health sector is not being accessed by the greater majority of the health workers who truly need the loans due to the difficult conditions attached to a loan that is supposed to be interventional.” He said.
According to AGPMPN President, Dr. Odo, there is an obvious linkage between these hard conditions and brain drain in the medical sector in Nigeria.
“The emigration of Nigerian Doctors abroad has become another crisis situation and the impact, if something is not done now to curb it, will be devastating. The loss of every Nigerian Doctor from Nigeria with fewer than 20% of our need for Doctors to Britain and America which already have met over 70% of their need must bother us.” Dr. Odo lamented.
Responding to the presentation of the AGPMPN representatives, the SGF, Mr. Mustapha, who doubles as the Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, (and who has also accepted to grace the AGPMPN centenary ‘Round Table Dialogue’ on the state of healthcare system in Nigeria, coming up on May 25, as a Special Guest of Honour), promised to pay special attention to all the issues raised by the association as captured in their president’s speech, knowing the importance of the association in the country’s healthcare delivery system.
He commended the AGPMPN for the roles they have continued to play in helping Nigerians meet their healthcare needs, even though they have remained seemingly unsung.
The SGF, who was represented at the meeting by Dr. Mbaeri Maurice Nnamdi, Permanent Secretary, General Services, office of the SGF, commended the Nigerian doctors, who have chosen to remain in the country in pursuit of their noble profession, in spite of all odds, for their patriotism and commitment. He also said that government would continue to work towards providing the enabling environment for all Nigerians to thrive in every areas on endevour.
The AGPMPN also informed the SGF that it would use the occasion of its centenary to celebrate and honour some distinguished Nigerians ( including those of them that have passed on) and organizations who have impacted positively to the health sector in Nigeria.
The association also disclosed that as a way of giving back to the society, “Part of the event on that day will be the official launch of a N10Billion private healthcare intervention fund to support two cardinal national projects for Nigeria, one of which is the ‘SAVE ONE MILLION NIGERIAN MOTHER INITIATIVE’ (Mobile Health Solution).
“This is a five-year project to help government improve the maternal and child health in order to reverse the very poor maternal and infant mortality rates in Nigeria, which are about the highest in the world.”
The main focus of the centenary event is to be part of the solution to Nigeria’s myriad problems in healthcare delivery, as close observers of the health sector in Nigeria would readily attest to the fact that healthcare delivery is in dire shape. From the poor healthcare infrastructure, inadequate or total lack of critical equipment, or the uninspiring conditions of work of the medical practitioners and other health workers, Nigeria’s health sector continues to seemingly gasp for breathe.
Those listed as proposed AGPMPN’s centenary awardees cut across age, political and social status. For instance, some of those to receive posthumous awards, include, Professor Dora Akunyili, former Director-Genera of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), for her relentless fight against fake and unwholesome food and drugs, late Dr. Stella Adadevoh, for her supreme sacrifice in the fight against Ebola and Professor Olukoya Ramsom Kuti, for his works in the area of pediatrics in the nation.
Nigeria’s football icon, Kanu Nwankwo, won a nomination in another category for his selflessness and laudable work with the Kanu Heart Foundation, through which a lot of indigent children with heart conditions received free surgeries and other medical interventions.
A former First Lady, Mrs Maryam Abacha, who founded what is now referred to as the National Hospital Abuja, through her pet project, the Family Support Programme Initiative. It was originally known as the National Hospital for Women and Children.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan will also receive an award for his servant-leadership in the fight against Ebola, under his watch as president, while the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, will be honoured for her outstanding advocacy and humanitarian works towards the improvement of infant and maternal health, through her foundation.
Other prominent awardees, in the political, corporate business and Non Governmental organization communities, who have been listed for the great impacts they have made overtime in the health sector, would be unveiled, at the AGPMPN centenary event in Abuja on May 25, according to the association.
Osemedua, a senior journalist, wrote from Abuja.