Shehu: Allocation to health sector should be increased


Dr. Abdulrahman Shehu is the chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). In this interview with SAXONE AKHAINE, he called on the National Assembly to pass laws banning public officeholders from using public funds for personal treatment overseas.

What will it take to have healthcare system that can discourage political office holders from seeking health care abroad?
It will take the direct collaboration of three stakeholders. They are the people, executive and legislative arms of government. Now, these three stakeholders have their roles to play. For the people, there is need to have belief in the health system of the country. To believe in the expertise of healthcare professionals and I am sure that should not be an issue, because many of those who have resources to travel abroad, they have found themselves having to consult professionals abroad who are Nigerians. So, it goes to show that health professionals in Nigeria have requisite expertise.

Secondly, Nigerians as a group of people should develop the culture of health patronage. Once you have that culture it will create an environment where health can thrive, and as health is thriving people are going to gain more confidence, and then the foreign patronage will no longer be an issue. For, the executive arm of government, again it goes without saying that they need to stop paying lip service to health care budgeting and health care financing. It has come to a time where government should put our money in the proper place.

You cannot proposed less than five percent of your annual budget for the health sector, when you have signed an agreement, a convention to dedicate 15 percent to health and be able to carry out your development goals
and targets in health.

Government really needs to come about innovative ways of getting alternative source of financing to health. Irrespective of recession, irrespective of economic hardship, it has the responsibility to innovate and harness all resources to significantly improve on funding of health care. The truth is that the reason why we are where we are is because there is no sufficient funding that is going into health. We should be able to dedicate significant sums of money to health.

You see, in a way legislation can also help, by committing the agencies of the Federal Government, for instance, the CBN, Bank of Industry to focus on the development of the private health sector, because, if you go across countries abroad, it is not just government alone that provides health care services. The portion of health care services provided by government is low compared to what private sector provides. But, in Nigeria we have not develop sufficient support for private health care existence. So, what government needs to do is to come out with specific and strategic policies to establish medical industries credit facilities. And with such facility people who are interested in health industry can now go and take the credit facility.

Do you support a ban on public officers from seeking medical treatment abroad?
Well, that is a dicey one. In as much as we want our health care system to grow and develop to global standard, you will agree with me that the right to health is a fundamental right for any citizen of Nigeria, as enshrined in our constitution. Now, what I would think can work is offering a legislation preventing public officers from using public funds to access healthcare outside the country, when such healthcare and services are available in the country. So, if we have health services that are available in the country, then no public officer should be funded to go and access those types of services outside the country. But, because of the fundamental right to health, as you know that there are health services that are certainly not available with the country, if any individual requires such health care that is not available within the country, you cannot by law prevent such person from accessing such services outside the country, irrespective of whether he is a public officer or not.

However, we are advocating that the office of the Chief Medical Officer of the nation be created separate from the Minister of Health. Now, if you have that office, it is that office that would be able to determine at any point in time if anybody needs to access services that are not available with the country. It is that office that would determine which services are available or not. Otherwise, under the current system somebody can pretend through a conniving healthcare professional that such health services can be best offered outside, whereas the services are actually within the country.

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