2010 has been a difficult year for keeping tabs on our Federal Ministry of Health. We have our 3rd Minister of Health in 4 years, and there is little to celebrate about. At Nigeria Health Watch (NHW), we were excited when a sister blog of the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas posted a blog titled "Health Minister Gives Progress Report on the First Six Months". We read this in anticipation of a revelation that we might have missed!
But alas, this is what was reported.
...The Minister reported his biggest achievement in the Ministry of Heath to be a "new sense of urgency and responsiveness in the Ministry"
...he also told them that "President Jonathan has been singularly focused on health policy and has invested enormous political capital to pass the Health Bill that will facilitate the development of a functional health system for the country".
Well ...not a lot to celebrate then fellow Nigerians. On the reported responsiveness of the FMOH - we will let you be the judge of that, and on the passing of the Health Bill.... we have waited for this for 6 years that we shall celebrate no more until it is signed and delivered. It is now 2011.....6 years after this bill was introduced.... 6 years!
...When pushed specifically on what had been actually been achieved in the first 6 months - Our Minister said "payment of the new wage structure for health workers and the arrears thereof".
....When pushed further - our Minster referred to his “Action Push Agenda for Health”, a plan for the period from April 2010 to May 2011. During this period, his top priorities will be on "governance and stewardship", team work and industrial harmony, keeping on track the realisation of the MDGs especially the Health MDGs, disease prevention, surveillance and control, provision of affordable but world-class healthcare services at our public and private tertiary health institutions, and the establishment of a reliable referral system.”
What can we say? Lots of grandiose promises and big words. What we fail to see in any of these are clear deliverable milestones that will affect the lives of ordinary Nigerians! What we seek are not big terms like "governance and stewardship" but simple things - that we can understand and hold our government to account for...or can you advise us on what to measure if "governance and stewardship" was achieved?
What Nigerians seek are simple measurable indicators for their health sector.
- If I go to a primary health care centre in Ogwashi Ukwu will my wife be seen by a nurse and have a safe delivery?
- If I give birth to my son in Jalingo General Hospital, will he receive life saving vaccinations?
- If my bus has an accident in Birnin Kebbi, will the General Hospital have blood?
- If the brand new MRI scanner in the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital finds a fracture at S1 - 2, will there be a surgeon to carry out decompression surgery if required, will there be oxygen for the anaesthesia, will their be electricity?
- If my president has a cold - does the tax I pay have to pay for medical care in Germany or Saudi Arabia?
All simple things really...
But sadly, health is really not on anyone's agenda. Not on the government's not on any of the opposition party's, and not on the people's...sadly.
Lately one reads statements and headlines from our Ministry of Health in our Nigeria, and we often ask ourselves ....should we really clap my hands and celebrate these as worthy of a news headline? Have we really degenerated to the level where the most basic actions taken by people in positions of responsibility are made into headline news. As doctors, should our patients clap for us when we examine them, should students clap for their teachers when they teach? should passengers clap for their driver when he drives? should it make headline news when a parent provides for his children? I guess your answer to all this will be NO! Then please people, can you tell me why the following stories should be headline news in Nigeria:
Daily Trust: Jos Victims - Minister Promises Free Treatment, Rehabilitation
FMOH website - Nigeria restates commitment to the Global Fund
Prof Chukwu calls for commitment to the sub-regional plan of epidemics prevention and control
Channels - Health Minister tasks States, Local Govts on Public Health Advocacy
Vanguard - No woman should die giving birth, says Chukwu
FG pledges to sustain polio eradication drive
......its all the Minister "calls for", "advocates", "pledges", "restates", "tasks".....
Not a single headline stating what the Minister has actually DONE!
Our health sector has remained an embarrassment for the country, and misery for its people. We have lost almost all confidence that we all shrug our shoulders, and look the other way. We expect little and demand little.
So colleagues in our Ministry of Health, let 2011 be a transformational year. You have a real opportunity to transform the lives of Nigerians. The lives of many Nigerians will depend on what you do in the next 5 months. Make it count! Lets get to work....