PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari jetted out of Nigeria to London on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, for a medical check-up, leaving behind a health sector grounded by a doctors’ strike across the country.
Under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors in Nigeria (NARD), the doctors had, on March 28, 2021, threatened to down tools over unpaid emoluments to house officers, otherwise known as housemen working in tertiary health facilities, among other demands. The strike has commenced in earnest despite government initial pressure on doctors to shelve the plan.
While resident doctors are on strike in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari is in the United Kingdom getting the best of medical care. He has, as usual, abandoned his country’s decrepit health care system for a better and more equipped hospital in the UK, leaving millions of poor people in Africa’s most populous nation without hope of enjoying a relatively good health system.
The ICIR had, on March 14, reported how the rift between the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) and chief medical directors of public tertiary hospitals in the country denied the house officers of their three months’ salaries – from January to March 2021.
Feud arose between the parties over the federal government’s decision to centralise the placement (or engagement) and payment of the housemen, thus obliterating the responsibilities of hospitals’ chief executives. The government had alleged abuse of the process by the hospital’s management.
Only 19 of 42 affected hospitals had paid resident doctors when the doctors issued the threat of a strike.
Among the aggrieved doctors is Okorie Venatus, a houseman who collapsed at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) in February this year. He spent two weeks at the hospital, receiving treatment.
The ICIR exclusively reported on March 30, 2021, how his family played a huge role in his treatment after he collapsed. The federal government has not paid Venatus since January 1, 2021.
NARD president Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi told The ICIR on Wednesday morning that the strike would go on as planned. As he promised, the strike has started in earnest.
Buhari’s many medical trips and Nigeria’s weak health system
Between June 6, 2016, and August 19, 2017, Buhari made three medical vacations to London, spending in all 168 days, according to The ICIR’s report published on May 8, 2018.
The report showed that Buhari beat the record set by one of his predecessors, late Umar Musa Yar’Adua, who reportedly spent 109 days on medical trips in 32 months.
In January 2017, the president was in the UK for seven weeks after writing to the National Assembly, informing the government’s legislative arm that his vice, Yemi Osinbajo, would perform his functions. He was away for 51 days.
The president again travelled to the UK’s capital on May 7, 2017, for medical attention. He spent four days on that occasion.
After meeting former President Donald Trump in Washington on April 30, 2018, Buhari headed for London, where his aircraft had a ‘technical stopover.’ He returned on May 2, only to notify the nation, through his senior special assistant on media and publicity Garba
Shehu that he would be jetting out of the country again to seek medical attention in the UK.
A year later, he was on another journey to London for treatment on May 8, 2018, where he spent a record 104 days.
The president’s last medical trip to the UK was on May 8, 2018.
The coronavirus pandemic confined most medical tourists to their home countries in 2020, as nations worldwide, mostly in Europe and the Americas, battled to save millions of their citizens who were at the mercy of the killer virus.
Nigerian health sector bedevilled by many woes.
The emergence of coronavirus exposed Nigeria’s degree of weakness, mostly to the influential Nigerians.
In an unusual admission of failure by public officials, the secretary to the federation government, Boss Mustapha, confessed he never knew the nation’s health system was in a deplorable state.
Nigeria runs a health system in which health services are both run by national and state government. This means that health is on the concurrent list of the nation’s constitution.
But the federal government believes that state governments are not doing enough to provide quality, affordable and accessible health services to the nation’s population.
Director of hospital services in the Federal Ministry of Health Adebimpe Adebiyi told The ICIR, in an interview seeking the ministry’s position on non-payment of doctors by the government, that state hospitals were not doing enough for resident doctors.
“There has been much pressure on tertiary hospitals in the country and that many people are eager to work there. Where are the state hospitals? In some states, it’s virtually the federal hospitals that are sustaining the health sector there. There’s so much pressure that everybody wants to enter into the federal tertiary hospitals.”
A renowned professor of virologist Oyewale Tomori told our reporter that the government needed to invest more in its health care system.
Tomori stated this while reacting to The ICIR’s request for his comment on President Buhari’s latest trip to London while doctors in the country were on the verge of embarking on strike.
He said there was no link between the president travelling abroad for medical attention and a strike embarked upon by medical doctors. But he was quick to note that if the nation’s hospitals were in good shape, the president would not travel abroad.
“It is obvious. If they (hospitals) can take care of him, he would not go out. If the hospital were there, he would have done it (his treatment) at home. The hospital is not there.”
Asked to state the factors responsible for not making the hospitals available, he said, “years of neglect. They’ve neglected our hospitals in the country for a long time.”
He said he expected the Buhari administration to have fixed the sector six years into his government.
“His government should have done something; if it hasn’t, then there is a problem,” Tomori stated.
Responding to a question on pundits’ argument that other leaders in Africa also travel outside the continent for treatment, Tomori replied: “You should ask if governments of Europe come to Africa for treatment.”
“If he (Buhari) likes, let him travel to Togo, that is his own problem. The point is, leaders from other parts of the world, do they come to Africa? They don’t because they have the facilities in their countries to take care of themselves. Why can’t we also do the same here? He noted.
“Arguing that other African leaders go abroad for treatment doesn’t make sense. If your classmate is failing the exam, would you compare yourself with him and say you want to fail like him?”
Nigeria had budgeted just 3.7 percent of its 2021 national budget to the health sector.
Out of the N13.58 trillion budget for the year, the government devoted only N514.8 billion to the sector (in both concurrent and capital projects sections of the budget).
The allocation, which has largely revolved around this percentage for many years, is a contravention of the 2001 Abuja Declaration, where heads of governments in Africa agreed to set aside at least 15 percent of their annual budgets to the health sector. Nigeria is a signatory to the agreement.