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Lawmakers, civil right groups commit to strengthening Nigeria’s health security

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From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

Civil right groups that focuses on Nigeria’s health care sector led by Nigeria Health Watch and Global Health Advocacy Incubator, have begun the push for “last minute” efforts and commitment from lawmakers in the 9th National Assembly to ensure the completion of work on pending pieces of legislations on health and other related matters.

The civil right groups are strongly advocating fixing “round pegs in round holes” as regards different health committees that would emerge at both chambers of the National Assembly in the 10th National Assembly in few weeks.

The Organizations were optimistic that such deliberate effort would strengthen the legal framework that would guarantee efficient and effective health care system in Nigeria, particularly in managing public health emergencies.

They said that public health emergencies can occur at any time, and can have severe consequences for individuals, communities, and entire countries if there was elements of unpreparedness.

In Nigeria, recent outbreaks of infectious diseases such as Ebola, Lassa fever, and COVID-19 have highlighted the urgent need for a strong legal framework to guide
the response to public health emergencies.

To address this pressing need, Nigerian legislative leaders, over the past four years, collaborated with relevant stakeholders and partners to propose series of new public health bills aimed at enhancing Nigeria’s response to public health emergencies.

These bills, notably, the Public Health Emergency Bill, seeks to provide a comprehensive legal framework for managing public health emergencies, as well as the amendment of the National Health Act, that seeks to address gaps in the existing legislation that hinder effective response to public health emergencies.

In addition, the Port Health Authority Bill was aimed at establishing and strengthening the Port Health Authority, responsible for health security at the country’s borders. These bills have significant implications for public health in Nigeria, and as such, it is critical that they are thoroughly examined and discussed by key stakeholders in the health sector.

Managing Director, Nigeria Health Watch, Vivianne Ihekweazu, in her remarks at a media roundtable held in Abuja recently with theme “strengthening health security in Nigeria through public health legislation”, admitted that there has been appreciable improvement in health services in Nigeria, stressing that more would be achieved with the support of lawmakers through the provision of legislative framework to back or support operations.

She said the media roundtable was organized to bring together stakeholders from the government, civil society, academia, and the media, to discuss the importance of the bills and the potential impact they could have on public health in Nigeria.

The meeting also provided opportunity for experts to share their views and insights on the bills, discuss the challenges and opportunities that they present, and identified areas where further action is needed to ensure that Nigeria is better prepared to respond to any future public health emergencies.

She said her organization and partners’ desire is to increase awareness and understanding of the proposed public health emergency bills among key stakeholders; provide a platform for stakeholders to share their perspectives on the bills and discuss their potential impact on public health in Nigeria.

Other objectives, according to her, are to identify areas of strength and weakness in the proposed bills and make recommendations for improvement; facilitate dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders in the health sector to ensure effective implementation of the bills, and generate public and policy makers interest in the proposed bills and their potential impact on public health.

She appreciated Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe; and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon Tanko Sununu; as well as Senators Chukwuka Utazi, and Pascal Obi, among several other lawmakers and civil right groups, who made tremendous inputs in the improved health care system in Nigeria via different laws that redefined health care services in Nigeria.

In his submission, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, confessed to the fact that Nigeria Health Watch and its partners have “pushed” the lawmakers positively to ensure that tremendous successes were recorded in health sector in the last four years particularly in the area of producing legal framework.

He said that discussion on Nigeria health care system in the last four years cannot be complete without mentioning COVID-19, its impact and effect, locally and globally. But the good partnership and collaborations that existed between the lawmakers and the civil right groups helped tremendously during and after COVID-19 pandemic.

He said: “Before the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, Lagos and Abuja Ports were never ready for health care emergencies. The case of Lagos was even better because it already had isolation centre, and that was because of Ebola experience which Abuja never had.”

Senator Oloriegbe confirmed that one of the benefits of partnership with the civil right groups was the collective improvement in health care delivery system which also attracted support and resources for health security.

“In addition to that, we expanded our infrastructures for effective response to pandemic or other public health emergencies. We had two government-owned laboratories and few private ones at the beginning of COVID-19. But that has changed. There are over 61 federal government-owned laboratories in Nigeria, functioning well, and that was because of our collaborative efforts.

“For instance, Quarantine Act was used to respond to COVID-19 pandemic because nobody saw the pandemic coming. But that was repealed and new Public Health Emergency Bill enacted. Legislative works have been concluded on the piece of legislation by both chambers of the National Assembly. Clause by clause consideration and adoption will be done soon, and thereafter presented to the President for assent,” he said.

Senator Oloriegbe regretted that he won’t be part of the 10th National Assembly, but expressed optimism and confidence that competent and passionate lawmakers would be drafted into the health committees to, perhaps, continue from where members of 9th stopped in terms of pushing for quality health bill.

Similarly, the Chairman, House Committee on Health, Hon. Tanko Sununu, in his submissions, promised that all the pending bills that would strengthen the health care system, notably, National Health Act, Public Health Emergency Bill and other likes, would be passed and assent given by the President.

He confirmed that the last four years have been good for health care system in Nigeria because of the fact that “round pegs were fixed in round hole”, thus suggesting that such professional leadership of several health committees is very important in the 10th Assembly.

He stressed the importance of roboust oversight on health related issues by members of 10th Assembly, particularly in areas of access to budgeted fund, as well as usage.

He lamented about growing practices of non-utilization of funds budgeted for health sector before the end of budget circle, resulting in the mop up of the funds. “That practice is not good for our health care system. It could be interpreted that such funds are not needed, and next time, you could get lesser budgetary allocation.

He charged the management of Federal ministry of health to fully push to access their funds, and fully utilize them for the purposes it was budgeted.

Hon. Sununu made reference to great transformation being done by Lagos state government on its health care system. “Lagos state is ahead in terms of health care services. Their ambulance and other emergency services are efficient. Lagos state health care services is worth emulating.”

Dr. Emmanuel Alhassan of the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, in his remarks, said the lawmakers engaged very actively with various stakeholders to improve the policy and legislative landscape in the country, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of robust and sustained funding for public health emergencies.

He added that the pandemic has also emphasized the need for strong and effective public health legislation that can support such funding.

He also celebrated the Hon. Tanko Sununu, Senator Chukwuka Utazi and Senator Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, describing them as health security champions, perhaps, for their roles in strengthening the health security of Nigerians through effective legislative services.




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