NIGERIANS and health experts have lamented widespread extortion of citizens through the sale of free anti-malaria drugs to patients at primary health centers (PHCs) across the country.
The development was condemned on Wednesday by participants and callers who featured on an anti-corruption radio show – PUBLIC CONSCIENCE, which was produced by the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development (PRIMORG).
The outcry is coming on the backdrop of an investigative report by TheCable exposing how health officials were found selling free malaria drugs to patients in PHCs located in Kwara, Osun and Borno states.
Speaking on the radio program, Casmir Ifeanyi, a public health consultant, said other states within the federation, besides Kwara, Osun, and Borno states also replicate the practice of giving away free malaria medications to unsuspecting patients.
“Some of the over thirty thousand PHCs scattered all over Nigeria had become disastrous and unfit for even animals to inhabit. Corruption has worsened malaria intervention programmes in Nigeria; hence no value for humongous funds spent to fight the disease,” he said.
The medical practitioner urged the Federal Government to raise public awareness, provide rural residents who largely evaluate healthcare at PHCs a voice in the centres’ operations, and examine Nigeria’s health regulations to ensure PHCs in the country function maximally.
Ifeanyi added, “Information is key. The point is that most patients who came for these services never knew it was free. So the government has been doling out money, but the people are not aware of all that, nor are they aware of what they are entitled to.
“How many Nigerians know the components of the minimum packages for health on the PHC level?”
Ifeanyi gave the following advice as a solution: “Each PHC is located in a community, it’s in a ward; so what we are going to do is set up the aboriginal people there who will be the board members of that small primary healthcare centre in the community. They help you look into the day-to-day running of the PHC, and that way, the Federal Ministry of Health, the NPHCDA can get real-time feedback, it becomes more interactive, the people take ownership of these interventions.”
He stressed that Nigeria must strengthen processes, review systems and interrogate disparities to further reduce corruption in the country’s healthcare system.
“If you take out the entire global resources and put it in the Nigerian health system, it will fail. People will never be able to get value for money. The entire system has collapsed and requires an urgent review.”
Samad Uthman, a journalist for TheCable, asserted that the extortion of patients at PHCs keeps spreading throughout communities due to a lack of awareness and exposure among rural residents.
He added that bridging the information gap between the government and the masses will go a long way toward assisting citizens in resisting extortion at PHCs nationwide.
According to Uthman, certain PHCs in Borno State require patients to pay between N500 and N1500 for free antimalarial medications, while others in Osun charge between N1000 and N1500.