Today we watched a well produced debate on a brand new 24 hour Nigerian news channel NN24, watched all over Nigeria (if you have electricity), beamed live across Africa by DSTV, by BEN TV in the UK, live-streamed on the internet, with live twitter feeds and parallel debates on facebook. The debates was moderated by the articulate editor of another leading light in the new Nigeria - 234Next; Kadira Ahmed. Several news sites will report and analyse the debate in detail but we will focus on the health sector.
The first to respond on the issue of health was Ibrahim Shekaru. I must confess, I was generally very impressed by how articulate Shekaru was. He answered most of the questions thoughtfully and generally gave well thought through answers, that is, apart from the questions on the health sector. On his priorities in the health sector he referred to public enlightenment and re-emphasizing primary health care. He referred to this approach as one he used "successfully" in Kano state, while redeveloping the Kano General Hospital and building a new pediatric general hospital. An interesting quote from him....
"Teaching hospitals have no business with small small cases of immunisations...."When challenged on his role in jeopardizing the global polio eradication campaign when he suspended immunisation after being elected into office as Governor of Kano State, he justified it by saying he did this to prevent the collapse of the public health sector in Kano as people had lost faith in government. He said he ...he had a "moral responsibility" to stop the polio vaccination programme! Hmmmm....
The general had a lot of the audience clapping for him when he said that he would "convince" our over paid senators to give up a lot of their incredibly generous financial reward, but he probably did not win a lot of people over when asked to articulate his vision for the health sector. On his plans for the health sector, he said he would improve infrastructure, especially water supply in order to stop water borne diseases, dig more bore holes etc etc. He would also train more people. The general moaned that there were too many fake drugs in the market, and we must therefore enforce strict control and supervision on the healthcare of children and mothers. But the quote that drew the most consternation was....
We will work with foreign NGOs to help our people - we will look for help from foriegn countries for advisers and experienced personnel, we will invite foreign pharmaceutical firms.It was obvious that the general has obviously not given a lot of thought to the health sector as a factor.
Mallam Ribadu was asked to start his debate on the health sector by stating what he felt about the situation in Lagos Stae, where doctors and nurses are on strike, leaving over 12 million Nigerians at the mercy of private hospitals. Lagos state is quoted on several occasions as the best performing state in Nigeria, and is governed by the Action Congress of Nigeria, Ribadu's party. Ribadu answered that the strikes were demonstration of democracy! Demonstration of democracy???
He came back to tell the story of his visit to a patient in Ikeja General Hospital were he says he was so impressed with the excellent facilities that he thought he was not in Nigeria. On his vision for the health sector, he said that he would not rehabilitate hospitals but the entoire health sector. He promised 6 special hospitals across the country for "kidney disease, cancer, heart disease, women, children and neurosurgery2. Mallam Ribadu would invite back Nigerian doctors from the Diaspora and promised to engage with the private sector to support his health sector plans. He also promised to strengthen the National Health Insurance Scheme and support the local pharmaceutical industry. He ended with this quote that he used severally in the debate...
"Nigerians ...it is possible "
So what did we think?
On the health sector, it was obvious that Mallam Ribadu had given this more thought than any of the other presidential candidates and gave the most articulate response but generally the responses on the health sector lacked depth and an understanding of the complexity of the sector. Most answers focused on quick wins - such as big infrastructure projects with little reference to the systems required to prevent illness and provide healthcare. They have three weeks to get some advice on this and bring this to the forefront of their campaigns.
But most of all we were disappointed by the absence of the party that has led the country for the past 12 years. - the PDP. Profoundly disappointed that they did not make themselves available to be held accountable.