The Nigerian health community has poured encomium on the outgoing Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuoso and the outgoing Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Health, Hon. Mohammad Usman for championing several healthcare policies and interventions in the 8th National Assembly.
They said the contribution of the two lawmakers ensured major policies and interventions have been put in place towards addressing healthcare issues in the country, especially on Universal Health Coverage, Basic Health Care Provisions Fund (BHCPF), nutrition, health insurance and National Health Act, among others.
Speaking during an event to honour Tejuoso and Usman, as well as a consultative meeting of legislators and executives to review progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Abuja recently, the Senior Health Specialist, International Finance Corporation/ World Bank Nigeria, Dr. Olumide Okunola said this was the first time in the history of the country that stakeholders, media and healthcare practitioners outside government would contribute their time and resources to honour outgoing parliamentarians who did exceptionally well in advocating for better healthcare for the country.
He said this was happening because the Nigerian health stakeholders saw tangible things that have happened because of their result-oriented representation.
He said: “As you are aware, countries that have achieved UHC did it through key areas; compulsion and subsidisation. So, as Nigeria moves towards UHC, the 8th assembly brought these two principles to life. It passed into law one of the most complex laws you can imagine, which is making the NHIS mandatory for Nigerians. That is the compulsion. The other area is that the 8th assembly, for the first time, made BHCPF a reality, thus fulfilling the subsidisation part. These were championed by Tejuoso in the Senate and Usman in the House of Representatives.
“In the four years they have spent in parliament, Nigeria’s health sector never got a reduction in its budget. For the first time, there is now a counterpart allocation for immunisation,” Okunola said.
He also emphasised that the 8th assembly had also brought recognition to the issue of stunting in the country, adding that until now, the nutrition division in the Federal Ministry of Health has always had a budget of around N2 million annually in a country where 30 per cent of the children are stunted. “Today, and thanks to our parliamentarians, Nigeria has committed 250 million dollars to address stunting”, he noted.
The representative, Development Governance International Consult, Dr. Gafar Alawode, who eulogised Tejuoso and Usman, said health committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives have laid a foundation for continuity, as they have done the sector proud.
He said: “All over the world, parliamentarians play a very big role which has huge implication for the development of the people. From day one the conversation on UHC started in Nigeria, Tejuoso including Usman had subscribed to the idea and they became its driver, especially in their respective committees.
“In July 2017, they conveyed the largest summit of lawmakers to discuss healthcare accessibility and affordability. More than 250 lawmakers across the country came together to discuss this. That occasion was chaired by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki who made a commitment to make BHCPF a reality. Today, BHCPF is a reality. And a number of states have increased their consolidated revenue fund to two per cent. Without Tejuoso and Usman, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
The President, Health Federation of Nigeria, Mrs. Clare Omatseye said Tejuoso always operated an open-door policy and has always given attention to the private health sector.
She said: “Tejuoso has been a health sector advocate for years. He has always opened his doors to ideas and collaboration. No does not exist in his dictionary. Same applies to Hon. Usman. They have come out as shinning lights in healthcare representation.”
Representative of the National Advocate for Health, Prof. Oladapo Ladipo, who also congratulated the parliamentarians for their achievements in NASS, called on the incoming senators to improve on what has been laid on ground.
The representative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – Health Policy Plus, Dr. Onoriode Ezire said the two parliamentarians have turned the tide in the healthcare space, and have made profound impact down to the community levels where primary health centres are benefiting.
He said: “As a result of passing the BHCPF law and appropriation of money for it, states have been able to pass relevant laws for their state health insurance scheme in other to meet the criteria for accessing the BHCPF. States have now also set aside N100 million counterpart fund in other to qualify to access BHCPF. A lot of progress has been made in the health sector all because of the work these distinguished men have done. For the incoming parliamentarians, the bar has been raised high. But all stakeholders here will support you.”
Country Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Paul Bassinga said when he first got his appointment in Nigeria, he went to see Tejuoso, and realised he was highly knowledgeable about the sector and the work BMGF does in Nigeria, adding that, “I know this has helped a lot in shaping the sector”.
Accepting the honour, Usman said despite not being a medical doctor, he identified with the importance of healthcare to a nation.
He said: “The achievements we made is attributed to the synergy we had with stakeholders. Outside the House, I will continue to be a health advocate for the country’s good.”
Tejuoso, on his part, said he cherishes the recognition from healthcare stakeholders, adding that this would help him and his colleague in aspiring for bigger things.
“For an incoming senator in the health sector field, this should be a very good tourniquet to aspire for greater things than we did. When we came in four years ago, we did not have events like this to encourage us to do more. For the first time, the private sector in the healthcare space are celebrating us, it means a lot,” he said.
The event was organised by the National Advocate for Health and Legislative Network for Universal Health Coverage.