Today I woke to accolades for the federal government of Nigeria for its plan to restrict government officials from seeking medical treatment in foreign countries if the Nigeria government was going to foot the bills for such treatment. The Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, told newsmen that a policy is in the offing to compel every public official to get medical attention in Nigeria if government was going to foot such bills.
While this is a welcome development, there isn’t much to cheer in this news for me. It appears that it will be another paper policy that will never get implemented if it ever gets approval from both legislative chambers. The minister pointed out that respect for human rights would not let government ban anyone outright from seeking medical treatment abroad, especially when it was obvious that not all medical cases could be handled here in the country. He also said that “government is thinking of a situation in, which the health ministry or minister will be the one to approve any request for medical treatment of government officials using government funds.” This means decision to allow the use of public funds for overseas treatment of public officials will rest with the ministry of health or minister.
I have some issues with such a proposal. Let’s not forget that the those who work in the ministry are civil servants and the minister is an appointed and not elected government official who answers to elected officials and in Nigeria, the power rests with elected officials and their cronies who can bring tremendous pressure to bear on the ministry or minister to obtain such approvals. Only an independent board of physicians can objectively perform such a function. Like many others, I would like to know if consideration for overseas medical treatment will apply to all “government officials” or just directors, permanent secretaries, commissioners, governors and the like who feed fat on public money who will not be affected by this policy anyway as they can afford to pay for their overseas treatment anyway from the wealth they have amassed from stealing public funds. I think they will just steal more to accommodate their overseas medical trips knowing that government will no longer cover it. This is far from noble.
On a good note though, the minister disclosed that President Goodluck Jonathan has emphasized to him the need to upgrade Nigeria’s tertiary health institutions to world class standards. This I think is what will start the process of assuring quality healthcare delivery and what we should expend our energy on. We will be watching as this proposal moves forward and if the promise of upgrading our tertiary healthcare institutions will once again not be an empty one.