Managing ethno-religious conflicts: Opting out of elective surgeries

Nigeria has been granted the waiver to carry out elective surgery through 27 primary health care institutions across all 26 states of the federation. The move comes at a time when the attendant challenges of accessing good health care facilities has been rising exponentially across the country.

In Nigeria, physicians are reluctant to offer treatment because of scarce supplies of most diagnostic and therapeutic drugs, including those for malaria, respiratory infections, routine surgeries, etc. Some pharmaceutical companies also refuse to sell sterile drugs for surgeries to Nigerian government-owned hospitals and clinics.

The current federal government policy on supplies of supplies of drugs, diagnostic equipment and other related medical facilities has not helped matters. It has even led to the operation of private-sector healthcare delivery services by some key government and health institutions in some areas.

So, it is not totally surprising that the medical doctors in the country have made it known that there is no way they will be able to provide all elective surgeries to the populace in the current and immediate future.

Against the backdrop of the foregoing, the National Health Act, 2014 and the three Interim National Bodies (NBBs) – the National Medical Association (NMA), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), and Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) – have already embarked on a drive to ensure that all elective surgeries are carried out through our primary health care institutions.

It is against this background that the current controversy over the cancellation of elective surgeries in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and New York, US, by the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, came about.

In New York, the medical personnel have opted for an indefinite strike to press for their demand. The claim of Governor Cuomo was that the federal government has refused to transfer over 13 medical facilities in New York to them to take over.

In line with the provision of the Federal Government’s health policy in the health sector, over 12,000 people from across the federation and Northern states of the federation who would have benefited from elective surgeries in the FCT are now placed at risk because of the decision by the state government. Some of them had travelled to the FCT from their states of origin to undergo elective surgeries.

The health policy of the government over the years has been to provide health services to the people in designated primary health care institutions. The medical personnel there are divided into four major categories – general, specialist, oncology and pediatric, and referred to as units of medical officers.

The consultants and permanent doctors are the ones who are in charge of elective surgeries. But the doctors in FCT have requested for their transfer.

We must remind the governors of the states of the federation of the enormity of the task that awaits them in rebuilding all the primary health care institutions across the federation, particularly in the area of adequate supply of drugs. Thus, if the medical personnel of the FCT attempt to proceed on an indefinite strike, what does that imply for the thousands of Nigerians who had travelled to New York, or elsewhere, for elective surgeries? Will the affected people also begin to travel again?

We must also understand that the FCT health policy is not a secondary health care provision made by the state government. Rather, it is a policy that is meant to address the priority needs of primary health care institutions.

This speaks for itself. It must be emphasised that the National Health Act, 2014, does not prescribe that the state governments should assume responsibility for the entire health care challenges. The Federal Government is the lead one in providing the required facility. The state governments are actually meant to cater for the needs of the people within their respective boundaries. That is the way it should be.

What Governor Cuomo should be able to understand is that all what is at stake here is the realization of the humanitarian ideals for which Nigerians fought so hard for years with blood and sweat. Nothing matters as much as that.

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