There is urgent need to overhaul the nation’s health facilities

At their best, power elite all over the world are known for one thing: enlightened self-interest. They usually appropriate the choicest resources to themselves: residential areas, health facilities at public expense, easy access to opportunities that are distant to lesser mortals, etc. It is therefore strange to see members of the political or business elite dwell adjacent to refuse heaps, fail to supply uninterrupted electricity to the seat of power or neglect facilities and supplies at a clinic that serves the president, vice-president, and their families.

Unfortunately, the story of the State House Medical Centre (SHMC), Abuja is that of neglect, such that one of the president’s daughters had to raise questions on social media about where the money budgeted for the clinic was being expended. Wife of the president, Mrs Aisha Buhari went a step further last week by calling out both the State House Permanent Secretary and the Chief Medical Director of the hospital. “I am sure Dr. Hussain Munir will not like me saying this,” said Mrs. Buhari. “As the Chief Medical Director, there are a lot of constructions going on in this hospital but there is no single syringe. Who will use the building? You are building new structures and there is no equipment, no consumables in the hospital?”

However, the scandal of the clinic goes beyond the issue of paucity of resources. It is strictly a crisis of self-esteem. Any sensitive power elite would operate from the premise that Aso Rock Presidential Villa should showcase the best that Nigeria has to offer in terms of facilities, efficiency, service delivery and general tidiness. So, invariably, what we are advertising to the world is our incompetence. If Aso Rock clinic is in a deplorable condition and lacking in drugs and other essential supplies, what would be the fate of the health centres in remote Nigerian villages, not to talk of our overcrowded urban public health facilities?

While the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Jalal Arabi, promised a quick intervention, he also hinted at the cause of the problem. According to Arabi, it “is the only health centre in Abuja where patients are not required to pay a dime before consultation. The centre offers free services, nobody pays a kobo for hospital card, consultations or prescriptions and this has taken a toll on the subvention the centre receives from the government. The drugs are always overwhelmed by the number of people who use the centre because it is not controlled.’’

While Arabi’s claim may be true, it is nonetheless an indictment on the State House that such an exclusive hospital can be accessed by just anybody. Besides, it is unfortunate that things would be allowed to degenerate before action could be taken. If one compares the cost of having a functional medical centre to the shame of presidents and ministers being routinely flown abroad at public expense either to treat a migraine or ear ache, it definitely pays the country more to put the facility in top shape. But while it is important that we deal with the immediate issue of the mismanaged SHMC, we must also highlight the unacceptable healthcare delivery system in the country.

On an annual basis, top political office holders (at public expense) and members of the business elite spend no fewer than $2 billion (about N300 billion) on foreign medical services. Yet many of our most vulnerable citizens die of preventable diseases due to lack of affordable medical services. We therefore urge all the relevant stakeholders in the health sector to work towards a complete overhaul of the system.