Health bills the 8th National Assembly failed to pass

AS today marks end of the term for the eighth National Assembly, The ICIR  highlights major health bills that could have improved health status of Nigerians which the lawmakers failed to pass.   

The 8th National Assembly comprising of the House of Representatives and the Senate was inaugurated on 9th June 2015 and will officially terminate on Saturday 8th June. The 9th Assembly would be inaugurated on Tuesday, June 11, as proclaimed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The health bills which the Assembly failed to pass include the followings:

Mental Health Bill

One of the bills that could significantly improve the mental health of Nigerians is Mental Health bill, sponsored by Ahmadu Abubakar, a senator representing Adamawa South. The bill seeks to provide for the enhancement and regulation of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. It also aims to protect persons with Mental Health challenge and to establish the National Commission for Mental and Substance Abuse Services, for effective management of mental health in Nigeria.

But the bill has only passed the second reading. In fact, other bills addressing mental health issues during the eighth Assembly were not fully debated.

In 2015, a bill sponsored by Senator Kashamu Buruji, a  Peoples Democratic Party’s member representing Ogun East Senatorial District, was struck out at the first reading in October 2015. The bill titled, “Mental Health Bill 2015,” aimed at tackling the source, causes and effects of mental sicknesses. A similar bill named  HB 554: Nigeria Mental Health Bill and sponsored in 2016 by Samuel Okon Ikon was read only once in June 2016.

However,  the assembly also failed to repeal a 60-year-old lunacy act.

Campaign Director of Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI), Jolaade Phillips told The ICIR on the 2018 World Mental Health Day that if the Mental Health Bill is enacted, the rate of stigmatization and discrimination against the illness will reduce.

“As a country, we should have a Mental Health Act if we want to improve the status quo,” he said.

Sickle Cell Bill

Currently, Nigeria has the highest sickle cell prevalence in the world, yet there is no legislation to control and manage the disease in the country.

A bill called Sickle Cell Anemia (Prevention, Control and Management) Bill was sponsored by Senator Sam Egwu, representing Ebonyi North, Ebonyi State was first read on December 3, 2015. The second reading was two years after – April 5, 2017.

The bill afforded intending couples an opportunity to attend a special clinic to carry out blood genotype tests and receive counselling based on the results.

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, but since then nothing has been heard of the bill and the Committee report is yet to be submitted.

Similarly, a bill titled “SB 414: The Compulsory Haemoglobin-Genotype Screening Test, 2017″ was sponsored by two senators, Ahmed Salau Ogembe and Ovie Omo-Agege. The bill seeks to provide for compulsory Haemoglobin-Genotype screening test before a marriage conducted under the Marriage Act and before registration of new births. The objectives of the bill include avoiding anxieties, pains and deaths associated with the disease, as well as to improve the lives of citizens who live with it.

After its first and second reading held in 2017, the bill was transferred to Senate Committee on Health. The Senate has been awaiting the committee report till date.

Nigerian Health Watch had written in 2017  that making genotype testing compulsory would improve the lives of the people living with the disease.

Lifestyle Bill

This bill was sponsored by Abubakar Yunusa Ahmed, a member of the House of Representatives in 2018 for the prevention of lifestyle diseases. The objective of the bill is to prevent lifestyle diseases through the regulation of the sale, consumption and advertisement of unhealthy processed foods, drinks and beverages which are high in calories, sugar, saturated salt and sodium.

Lifestyle is key to the quality of health.  According to a journal published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), health and quality of life are correlated to lifestyle,

“The relationship between lifestyle and health should be highly considered. Problems like metabolic diseases, joint and skeletal problems, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, overweight, violence and so on, can be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle,” the journal stated.

But the bill that seeks to regulate the consumption of certain foods, drinks and beverages in order to reduce the prevalence of diseases associated with lifestyle has not made it to the third reading.

According to Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre Plac, an organisation that works to strengthen democratic governance and citizens’ participation in Nigeria, the bill was read the first and the second time in February and July 2018 respectively, it was then referred to the committee on healthcare services. Till date, the committee is yet to submit a report.

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