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Bill seeks 7 years imprisonment for public servants who spend taxpayers’ money on foreign medical treatment

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A BILL which passed second reading in the House of Representatives on Wednesday is seeking seven years imprisonment, or a fine of N500 million, for public servants who spend taxpayers’ money on personal medical treatment.

Sponsored by Sergius Ogun, the bill seeks to amend the National Health Act, 2014 to make provision for sanctions against any public officer who violates the provisions of the Act, especially its Section 46.

The proposed amendment to Section 47 reads: “Without prejudice to the right of any Nigerian to seek medical check-up, investigation or treatment anywhere within and outside Nigeria, no public officer of the Government of the Federation or any part thereof shall be sponsored for medical check-up, investigation or treatment abroad at public expense except in exceptional cases on the recommendation and referral by the medical board and which recommendation and referral shall be duly approved by the Minister or Commissioner of Health of the state as the case may be.”

Ogun explained that the decision to sponsor the bill was borne out of a desire to discourage medical treatment abroad at the detriment of the country’s indigenous health institutions.

He also said the bill would, among other things, revamp the poor state of the health care sector in Nigeria.

“It is no news that Nigeria’s health care system is in a deplorable state and needs urgent attention.

“There is paucity of infrastructure, dearth of medical personnel, poor standards and many other challenges that need to be addressed. The intent of this bill is to spur public officers to pay more attention to our health care sector and take drastic steps to develop and improve on the sector.”

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While seeking the support of his colleagues for the bill, Ogun said it would curtail the excessive medical trips of public officers abroad and direct their attention to fixing the poor state of the country’s health sector.

He submitted that it would lead to the development of the nation’s health sector, improve remuneration for medical doctors, and attract Nigerian doctors abroad to come back home.

The bill, when passed into law, would ensure that funds that were hitherto expended on foreign medical trips would be redirected into building an efficient and effective health care system in the country.

He also noted that the bill would reduce capital flights spent on medical tourism abroad.

The lawmaker also proposed the insertion of Clause 2(2) which stated that “Any public officer of the Government of the Federation or any part thereof who violates the provision of Sub-section (1) above shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000,000 (five hundred million naira) or an imprisonment term of seven years, or both.”

A member of the House, Ibrahim Isiaka, who had seconded the motion to consider the bill for second reading, raised a point of order to withdraw his secondment of the proposal, saying what he had on paper was different from what Ogun was saying.

He was, however ruled out by the deputy speaker, who said the House rules did not support his withdrawal of secondment.

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The bill was unanimously voted by lawmakers for the second reading when the deputy speaker put it out for voting.

Since he came to power in 2015, President Muhammadu has made several trips to London to treat an undisclosed ailment.

The president’s trip has expectedly elicited reactions from Nigerians over the deplorable state of the healthcare system, with experts saying the country could be losing more than N576 billion ($1.2 billion) yearly to medical tourism.

Nigerians have for decades suffered from an inadequately funded healthcare system, squalid clinics and hospitals, and poorly paid and overworked healthcare workers who frequently move abroad for employment.

There are at least 8,178 medical doctors of Nigerian origin working in the United Kingdom, according to data on the U.K. General Medical Council website.

The exodus has worsened healthcare in a country that has one doctor for every 5,000 people, according to the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA).

According to the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), about N576 billion ($1.2 billion) is lost to medical tourism yearly in Nigeria.

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This is about N100 billion less than the N632.7 billion allocated to the health sector in the 2021 budget.

Also, a Price Waterhouse Coopers (2016) report states that Nigerians spend $1 billion annually on medical tourism, with 60 per cent on four key specialities, namely: oncology, orthopaedics, nephrology and cardiology.

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