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Nigeria: in search of a robust health system

Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan

When the National Health Bill was passed by the Nigerian Parliament in May 2011 – seven torturous years after it was first presented to the lawmakers – many Nigerians had cause to celebrate in the belief that it would eventually halt and reverse the deteriorating health indices in the country.

More than a year later, the health bill is yet to become law as the Nigerian President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan has refused to append his signature.

Did we celebrate too early? Maybe not.

The passage of the bill is itself some form of success as it is the first attempt at creating a legal instrument to guarantee the right to health for all Nigerians.

A pressing need
I often hear people wonder why there is so much talk about the National Health Bill.

The bill is aimed at strengthening Nigeria’s weak health system, which the World Health Organization has described as the fourth worst in the world.

If signed into law, fully resourced and effectively implemented, the National Health Bill would provide free medical care for children under five years old, pregnant mothers, the elderly above 65 and people with disabilities.

It would also guarantee basic minimum health package for all Nigerians, permit universal acceptance of accident cases by all health facilities in Nigeria either public or private, and ensure the quality of healthcare services through the issuance of Certificates of Standard to all health institutions.

At the moment, Nigerian health statistics are among the worst in the world, comparable only to those of failed states or countries at war.

Almost one million children die every year in the country. That translates into nearly three thousand deaths per day or one hundred and fourteen per hour.

About 292,000 newborns die in the first 28 days of life every year, it has been said that the figure is the second highest in the world.

To compound all this, Nigeria record about 34,000 maternal deaths annually.

Hope deferred

No doubt President Jonathan already missed one golden opportunity at improving healthcare delivery for Nigerians.

But going by recent comment from the Chairman Senate Committee on Health, Senator Gyang Dantong , all hope is not lost.

According to him, “It took us quite a long time to be able to pass this bill in the last Assembly, but to our surprise, it has not been assented to.

“Although it is late to assent to it now because it was the sixth Senate that passed it, the best thing is that it should be returned to the National Assembly. It would go through the normal procedures again for us to fast track its passage again.”

With the promised speedy passage by parliament, it’s hoped that soon Save the Children, alongside other stakeholders under the aegis of the Nigeria Health Sector Reform Coalition, would soon represent the Health Bill to Parliament.

It’s hoped that when the National Health Bill is passed the second time, President Goodluck Jonathan will see the need to sign the bill into law.

Download the National Health Bill


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