Medical tourism bill – The Nation

  • Reps should have reworked the proposed law instead of throwing it away

To millions of hapless indigent Nigerians who have no means to travel out of the country for medical treatment, any measure taken to make the government and public officials alive to their responsibilities in providing good hospitals in the country would just be appropriate. It is immaterial whether this violated the rights of the concerned public officials who the common man sees as being responsible for the poor state of hospitals in the country.

Indeed, this would appear to be the motivation for the bill seeking to regulate overseas medical treatment by public officials that was last week voted out by lawmakers in the House of Representatives. To underscore how dear the bill was to the representatives, the Report on the Bill for an Act to Amend the National Health Act 2014 to Regulate International Trips for Medical Treatment by Public Officers to Strengthen the Health Institutions for Efficient Service Delivery was considered by the Committee of the Whole.

Regrettably, it was killed. The law makers say the bill breached their rights as public officials and, secondly, it discriminates against them as elected officials. According to Deputy Speaker, Mr Lasun Yusuff, “This bill is against my fundamental human rights. There are two fundamental wrongs in this bill. It is against human rights and it is discriminatory. Do not let us do a debate on this bill.”

Mr Razak Atunwa, from Kwara State, would appear to have got the motive of the sponsors of the bill when he said that the bill was targeted at public officials over the mismanagement of the health care sector.  “The fact that I am a public servant does not mean I have given up my rights. If the government has failed in providing hospitals, we cannot punish someone for it. The intention is right, but better funding for training of doctors, better funding for hospitals is the right way to go”, he added.

The Deputy Majority Leader, Mr Mohammed Wase, from Plateau State, wasted no time in urging his colleagues to “throw away” the bill. His reason?  “I was in hospital in Nigeria for a checkup and they said I was fine. Friends encouraged me to travel (abroad) for a checkup and I did, only to discover that I was not okay. I spent three months there. Now you are telling me to get approval. Please, this bill should be thrown out. Instead of banning people from travelling, we should create an enabling environment for people to invest in the health care sector.”

Some of the reasons given for rejecting the bill could easily be punctured, especially in a country where democracy has taken root and people know their rights under the law.

For Wase who was wrongly diagnosed as being medically fit at home whereas all was not well with his health as he eventually learnt when he travelled out on his friends’ advice, only to spend three months panel-beating his health, how many Nigerians are so blessed? How many of them can hop into the next available flight for overseas treatment?

It is unhelpful to just dismiss the bill as the House of Representatives did. Instead of dismissing it, or, to paraphrase Mr Wase, instead of throwing it away, what they should have done is to look for ways of reworking it to make it relevant to the majority of Nigerians who do not have the means to seek medical treatment abroad. After all, these are the people the law makers are supposed to be representing. The legislators cannot take care of their own personal interest, leaving their constituents in the lurch.

The solution to the healthcare problems in the country is not going to come when law makers do not see themselves as part of the government, as Mr Atunwa suggested. The House of Representatives is part of the government, after all, it makes laws, in conjunction with the upper legislative chamber, the senate, for good governance, that the executive arm executes.

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