ABUJA (National Conference Report) – The debate of the ongoing National Conference in a bid to reduce the current negative impact of medical tourism on the image and integrity of Nigeria and her healthcare system has set strict procedures that must be observed by public officers seeking medical treatment outside Nigeria.
The Conference in its sitting lately, observed that seeking medical treatment abroad has resulted to immense capital flight and drain on Nigeria’s economy. Adding, this has also resulted to medical tourism and abuse of existing processes for the screening of referrals for foreign medical treatment.
It resolved after debating on the issue that henceforth, there should be restriction of Government sponsorship of public officers for foreign medical care; indicating that unless in exceptional cases requiring referral abroad, all public officers should mandatorily utilize the available local health facilities. These exceptional cases, it said must be screened by a medical board comprising of appropriate medical and healthcare professionals.
According to report from the Conference, the delegates demanded that the board should be subject to the approval of the Minister of Health, who is the Chief Medical Adviser to the Federal Government; except where such exceptional cases involve serious emergencies of which instant approval may be given. The delegates further expressed the need for improvement in the quality of healthcare services in Nigeria as a deliberate effort to refocus the attitude of healthcare workers to patients in Nigeria and improve on the political commitment to healthcare delivery by political office holders.
The Report of the Committee on the Social Sector presented by the Committee Chairman, Iyom Josephine Anenih and supported by the Deputy Chairman, Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai (Professor), who is the former Minister of Education was followed by heated debates. The Conference resolved that free-healthcare be established for children aged 0-5 years, senior citizens from the age of 65 years as well as persons living with disability or the physically challenged persons. It also advocated for free maternal services and free school health programmes. After another round of heated debate by the delegates, the Conference decided that the Government and owners of mission/private schools should dialogue to facilitate the handover of all mission and private schools to their original owners.
In returning the schools, it was agreed that the owners must ensure that they are made affordable and able to serve a wider amount of the public as it were in the original concept of the mission schools. It further recommended that there should be regulation of the fees charged by the schools. Adding, the schools should provide assistance to the local community through scholarships and other services. The delegates also said that children from other denominations should not be marginalized in the admission process, stating that staff of the schools should be given the option of remaining with the institution or being absorbed into government service in event of the return of the schools.
Speaking further on schools, it was unanimously decided that the Government should convert all Almajiri schools to normal schools and integrate Quranic education curriculum to absorb the millions of out of school children. The Government was also asked to provide free basic education with free uniforms, books and midday meals for all children from primary one to junior secondary three. The Conference noted the need for Government to build additional Almajiri Schools to bring them up to 400 as originally planned; saying a ten-year plan of sustained implementation should be put in place with a view to providing access to all children.
‘The 2004 Pension Act, the Conference agreed should be amended so that the payment of pension to beneficiaries would continue throughout their lifetime instead of the current practice where payment is only made to people between 15 and 18 years post-retirement. The delegates agreed on the urgent need to amend the 2004 Pension Act to include a provision to hold the National Pension Commission responsible and also prescribe penalties. It accepted that salary reviews should be reflected in calculating benefits across the board, particularly in reference to long-time retirees; salary increases should automatically affect retirees in both the old and new pension systems.
“To ensure full coverage of citizens, Pension Fund Administrators and the National Pension Commission should be obliged to begin a comprehensive programme of registering the informal sector workers under the 2004 Pensions Act. A social security policy should be established to cater for the well-being of the elderly in addition to the pension policy,” the Conference resolved.
The Report from the Conference Secretariat explained that the proceedings at the Conference came to a halt for about 15 minutes when some male and female delegates took the floor to protest the attempts by other delegates to vote against the application of the affirmative action demanding that 35% of elective offices at all levels be reserved for women. It noted that as soon as the delegates voted to reduce the percentage from 35% to 30%, all the women in the hall, including some men responded with singing and efforts to veto decision.
“When the hall was eventually called to order, some of the male delegates, including the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba spoke in favour of the 35% affirmation. They averred that the matter was already an existing government policy and it was unanimously decided that since the practice was already in existence and on-going, it should be allowed to remain. But unexpectedly, some female delegates conspire on that to ask for an increase to 40%,” the Conference report indicated.
In another development, the delegates decided that the Federal Government should put into effective use the National Policy on Women adopted in 2004 which was replaced with the National Gender Policy in 2006. They observed that the Government was also asked to draft for passage and implementation, a Bill on the Abolition of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in Nigeria to address the issue of discrimination and violence against women and maltreatment of widows.
They adopted the recommendation that Government should legislate to prohibit the installation of telecommunication mast in residential neighbourhoods and to prohibit other practices that negatively impact on health, including female genital mutilation.