NIGERIA is a country of distinct contradictions. Public officers make a round of the world attending seminars and conferences on health, for example. They then conclude health is important to the country’s well-being.
Budgets at national, state, and local government levels – are never more than three per cent of the total – truly reflecting the priority we place on health services. Most health budgets are for payment of salaries and maintenance of old facilities that barely provide any services.
In a world leveraging technologies to improve lives, our health services remain ancient, and exorbitantly expensive where they appear modern. The ease with which government officials, and all who can afford it, travel abroad for their medical check has left millions of Nigerians to their fate. Would government officials bother with health facilities they do not use? How would they appreciate the challenges ordinary Nigerians face to access health services?
The rise in poverty, hunger, and new illnesses has left many Nigerians unable to manage health situations confronting them. How would millions of Nigerians, without employment, without savings, without any assistance access health services?
Many government officials would push their free health services as the answer. How would they know, that with a few exceptions, that free medical services are sheer propaganda?
Cases of patients being detained in hospitals over their inability to pay their bills are on the increase. This usually happens in private hospitals. Arguments that those who cannot pay their medical bills should use government hospitals are made with a flimsiness that suggests government hospitals are within reach of everyone and that they provide services.
Are we running a nation without a place for the poor? Should Nigerians who are unable to pay hospital bills, who cannot afford to pay, be allowed to die? What do governments do for ordinary Nigerians – the poor, the weak, the elderly, the physically challenged, unpaid pensioners, the unemployed, and the unemployable? Are they expected to die because they cannot pay hospital bills?
Sustainable health systems built on working insurance schemes, free health services for the poor, social responsibility ventures and philanthropic contributions are long overdue. They are different from the pamphleteering and speechifying Nigerians witness daily.
Politicians who swear to constitutional provisions that the security and welfare of the people are the primary purpose of governments should not just wonder about health.
If health is as important as they all claim, they have to do more than wondering about it in order to save the increasing millions of Nigerians, who have no capacity whatsoever to cater for their medical needs. Leaders have a responsibility to include them among their health priorities. Health services need an emergency, urgently.