James Emejo in Abuja
A bill seeking for Act to amend the National Health Act to regulate or prohibit international medical trip by public servants and for other related matters yesterday passed its second reading in the House of Representatives.
The sponsor of the bill, Hon. Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo), said it is desirable and timely in recognition of the need to support governmentâ€™s initiatives to strength statutory institutions for optimal performance as well as the need to generate more revenue to address developmental deficits and other lingering challenges.
He said such funds could be sourced from the huge resources spent on unregulated foreign medical trips particularly by public servants.
He argued that most of the medical trips abroad do not have positive impacts on the countryâ€™s economy.
In his lead debate, Ogun said given Nigerians preferences for anything foreign, itâ€™s not surprising that over 5,000 citizens fly out on a monthly basis to seek medical treatment in India and other countries.
He said the country loses over $500 million annually with India alone scooping about $260 million of the resultant capital flight.
Among other things, he said though there exist a few good private hospitals which are too expensive for ordinary Nigerians, existing public health facilities, health personnel, health regulatory authorities and enabling legal frameworks which regulate the sector do not provide the conducive environment that guarantees the delivery of qualitative, affordable and standard health care services in the country.
As a result, he said the bill had been proposed to amend the Principal Act to regulate international medical trip especially by public servants who are the custodians of public institutions.
He said: â€œThis amendment will no doubt facilitate the development of effective health care facilities and general economic development.â€
This bill generated a lot of interests from members who all gave their support and expressed reservations in specific areas.
Some of them couldnâ€™t control their emotions as they recounted personal experiences about the dysfunctional health care delivery system in the country, worsened by sheer neglect by past administrations.
Hon. Abdulrasak Namdas (APC, Adamawa) said the situation was pathetic stressing that foreigners ought to be attracted into the country for their medical need rather than Nigerians spending a fortune on medical trips abroad.
He said doctors in public hospitals have their respective private hospital and do not take government medical centers seriously.
He added that some public officials particularly tell lies in other to embark on fake medical trips abroad- thereby squandering public resources.
Hon. Edward Pwajok (APC, Plateau) said the bill should be allow for public hearing so that grey areas such as whether to regulate or out-rightly prohibit medical trip abroad would be addressed.
He regretted that so much money was bing spent outside the country by public officers, stressing that â€œThing must be made to work properly.â€
Also, Hon. Johnson Agbonayinma (APC, Edo) blamed successive administrations for failing to provide good hospitals over time.
But Hon. Nkem Uzoma Abonta (PDP, Abia) said though the intention of the bill was good, the practicability remained a source of worry for him.
He said the issue was a regulatory one which could have been addressed through a motion.
He said there was need for further clarity on whether the prohibition would affect all public servant- those who make such trips with their own monies- and those who rely on public funds- as well as whether the bill seeks to regulate or prohibit foreign medical trips.
Also, Hon. Nnenna Elendu warned that the bill, unless fine-tuned, could infringe on the rights of persons to make personal decisions on their health.
She said: â€œCan we really stop a person from going medical trip abroad? It may infringe on personsâ€™ rights. I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s anywhere this is obtainable. I fear it will infringe on peopleâ€™s rights.â€
However, members expect that the grey areas highlighted in the bill will be addressed by the time it is subjected to a public hearing where stakeholders will be allowed to make input on the subject matter.
Nevertheless, the bill was unanimously passed through voice vote and referred by the House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara to the committees on health services and institutions for further legislative action.