Health workers raise alarm over plans to privatise sector
HEALTH workers under the umbrella of Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU)/Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA) have raised the alarm over plans by the Federal Government to privatise public health institutions just as they decried the continued neglect of the Vaccine Production Laboratories in Yaba, Lagos.
The workers who include all the professionals in the health sector besides doctors, yesterday, at a press briefing in Lagos, cautioned President Muhammadu Buhari that the proposed healthcare agenda and health sector restructuring document will not serve the best interest of Nigeria and therefore called for a truly broad-based platform of professional associations and unions in the health sector to come up with an impactful health agenda for the country.
The health workers said it is their hope that President Muhammadu Buhari will urgently redress the myriad of outstanding welfare issues of health professionals and workers in Nigeria in the same spirit in the days ahead.
The health workers said while global emphasis is being laid on the promotion of preventive healthcare through immunisation and control of vaccine preventable diseases, Nigeria prefers to import all the vaccines for routine immunisation.
In another development, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Branch has advocated for close partnership of both the Public and Private health sectors in Nigeria as a means to bringing quality and reliable healthcare to the accessibility of the people.
Going down memory lane, the workers said it is on record that Nigerian medical laboratory scientists produced millions of doses of smallpox vaccine in Yaba in the 1960s and 1970s, which were exported to the West African sub-region for the eradication of smallpox. Yellow fever and rabbis vaccines were similarly produced in the country. Today, Nigeria is spending millions of dollars importing yellow fever and rabbis vaccines.
They called on Buhari to support the unions to reactivate the Vaccine Production Laboratories in Yaba for the production of vaccines within the country.
They alleged that the health sector is one of those sectors placed under the supervision of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and that six doctors including agents of Western donor agencies in Lagos State that championed the commercialisation of health facilities were charged with the responsibility of crafting the health policy of the Buhari administration.
The health workers said one of the key recommendations of the six-man committee was to canvass a ‘reform of the Federal Ministry of Health and reduce the number of agencies from 14 to three based on alignment of scope and deliverables.’
They alleged that the Buhari administration has sought views and position papers on healthcare agenda from strange templates especially a particular group of entrepreneurs in healthcare rather than the true representatives of healthcare providers and who are well structured into various healthcare professional associations and trade unions.
The health workers further alleged that the pecuniary motives of the entrepreneurs in healthcare who belong to an array of professions and background remain an inclination to access funds provided by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). “They plan to lord their concept of privatisation and commercialisation on the health sector, notwithstanding the damaging effects it will bring to consumers of health services and the economy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is apt to put on record that the operatives of International Finance Corporation who are citizens of Nigeria have no respect for our laws,” they said.
The health workers added: “They insist on a version of reforms in healthcare that are self-serving in terms of their narrow commercial interests and those of their foreign pay-masters.
“The team has been canvassing the agenda of bringing foreign chain retail promoters in pharmacy practice into Nigeria for instance.”
The health workers warned of foreign company domination which prevents Nigeria from building capacity through Nigerian providers.
They called on the President to redress the impending damage the re-structuring of healthcare sector will occasion, in the public interest by directing appropriate quarters to embrace rational and home grown-initiatives to tackle challenges in the health sector.
The health unions said some pressing challenges and distortions in the sector have lingered for so long and therefore appealed to Buhari to urgently call the authorities in the Federal Ministry of Health and the management of tertiary hospitals to order.
They said: “The gross mismanagement of our hospitals by some Chief Executives of tertiary hospitals has assumed an alarming proportion. A case in point is the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri. For over three months, health professionals and workers, members of our associations and unions at the Federal Medical Centre Owerri were on strike, practically closing down the hospital for the entire period, subjecting patients and members of the public to untold hardship. It is hoped that the Fact Finding Committee that was constituted last week would carry out her assignment expeditiously.
“Many Chief Executives of hospitals have continued to run our hospitals as if they are private estates without government statutory rules and regulations. Modern healthcare practice is a multi-professional and multi-disciplinary endeavour. Any team is as good as its component parts.”
The health workers also faulted the constitution of the members of the 26-man Technical Review Committee on the National Health Act 2014. “Of more concern is that, representation in the Technical Review Committee has not been extended to professional associations and unions in the health sector,” they said.
The health workers said the government must face the reality that in the context of the National Health Act 2014, the professional associations and trade unions in the health sector constitute major stakeholders. “Why will they sideline key stakeholders in fashioning the implementation of the National Health Act? It will not augur well for the sector.”
The petition to Buhari was signed by: President, National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Comrade Abdulrafiu Adeniji; President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Olumide Akintayo, President, Association of Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP), Dr. O. C. Ogbonna; President, Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN), Alhaji Toyosi Y. Raheem; President, Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI), Dr. B. A. Akintola; President, Association of Radiographers of Nigeria, Dr. Mark Okeji among others.
Speaking at the NMA Annual General Conference, with the theme ‘Re-defining Medicine’ in Abuja, yesterday, Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, FCT, Dr. Zainab Mairami, stated that the Federal Government of Nigeria should explore the need for the Public Private Partnership initiatives (PPP), stressing that the hospitals where Nigerian troops go to in developed countries are private sector driven.
Her words: “We implore the government of Nigeria to explore the option of encouraging world class medical practice in Nigeria through the Public Private Partnership initiative, whereas those mega hospitals Nigerian troops go to in developed countries are private sector driven and one reassuring fact is that most of those hospitals abroad have Nigerian doctors as their principal doctors.”
She explained that medical practice has become very dynamic and patterns of disease burden in developing countries are changing, noting the need to reduce the rate of medical tourism as it leads to avoidable economic lavish.
Mairami further stated that medical doctors in the country need rebranding as the association is ready to reengineer, reboot, reformat, refocus and recreate a better image, teamwork and camaraderie among healthcare workers.