SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE, HIS EXCELLENCY (DR.) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, CON, MBBS, AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF 58TH ANNUAL GENERAL AND SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCE OF THE NIGERIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (NMA) HELD AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTRE (ICC), ABUJA, ON 3 MAY, 2018.
1. It gives me great pleasure to be with you all today at this gathering, which is the 58th Annual General & Scientific Conference of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), here in Abuja. It is always a special feeling when I am amongst the venerated body of Nigeria’s medical doctors and dentists, fellow members of the Hippocratic oath, as I am doing today. I feel very much at home as a member of this Association, in the footsteps of my late father – whose affiliation with the NMA constituency remains a source of pride and inspiration to me.
2. Let me therefore, as one of the medical doctors in the house today, welcome all practitioners and stakeholders in the health sector, civil society organisations here present, as well as all health agencies and representatives from the states level – to this all-important 58th annual gathering.
3. Health has been a core legislative agenda of the 8th Senate under my leadership, and the nature and demands of my national duties make for a beneficial intersection in my abiding desire and commitment to participating in your activities. Let me commend most heartily the President and all members of the Nigerian Medical Association, especially the members of the organising committee whose meticulous planning has made possible this grand event.
4. The mainstay of this year’s conference, with its over-arching focus on the providers, administrators as well as recipients of healthcare in this country – strikes one as very apt indeed, particularly in light of recent events in the polity. The Nigerian health sector especially Primary Health Care, as we all know, has not been adequately attended to, in terms of the standard medical and infrastructural resources needed for the preservation and advancement of citizens’ lives and the economy. This is regrettable because it has retarded progress in our healthcare provision as a country, even in the sub-sectors of the health system. At the core of these issues is funding – or specifically, the lack of funding.
5. A look at the subthemes of this conference highlights issues bedeviling the sector, namely: ‘Budgeting for Health Resources in the Nigerian Setting’; ‘Reversing Medical Tourism Through Effective and Efficient Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the Health Care System of Nigeria’; and ‘The National Health Act – Four Years After, Where Are WE?’
6. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is pertinent to observe that these sub-themes represent a foundational structure that should act as much needed springboard to, at the very least, help us sustain our people and make Nigeria stronger for global participation and competition into the future.
7. Key to this needed sustenance and strength for our people, as I have noted, is the issue of funding for the health sector. This represents the agreed sum of income and expenditure, an agreed figure for a specific time and specific organisation, usually expected to be in tandem with organisational and institutional financial requirements. The sobering truth is unavoidable, that funding for medical activities in Nigeria calls to be looked into, seriously and with urgency.
8. As I intimated when the delegation led by the NMA President and the Executive called on me at my office yesterday, and as I reiterate now, Primary and Universal Health Care provision is a key legislative agenda for the 8th Senate under my leadership. It is a promise that we have made to Nigerians, and one that we are determined to keep. In July last year, I launched the Legislative Network for Universal Health Coverage; and urged the Federal Government to honour the Abuja Declaration (2001), while calling for full implementation of the National Health Act 2014, which – as some of you will recall – I helped formulate during the 7thSenate.
9. Therefore, there is no better place than here today, to announce that the issue of funding will be attended to in our budgetary review of the 2018 Appropriations Bill. The Senate has, with the cooperation of the House of Representatives, resolved to mandate our Committees on Appropriations to ensure that the pledge to set aside 1 per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) is met. This would be the underpinning for a legislative framework for the BHCPF and revitalisation of primary health care delivery across the nation.
10. It will happen, and it is imminent. We are working hard to achieve this, and – as I said during the courtesy call yesterday – we believe the 1 per cent will be a good parting gift from the 8th Senate to the NMA President as he comes to the end of his illustrious tenure. Better healthcare for Nigerians is long overdue, and we now have the historic opportunity to put that right. Once this 1 per cent is put into law, we as legislators will embark on the next stage, which will be to ensure that we get value for money, for transparency in the use of the funds.
11. With respect to Medical Tourism, Nigeria ranks amongst the top countries visiting international shores for medical treatment and support. We lose more than $1bn annually to medical tourism; and it is untenable and unsustainable. Some countries even go to great lengths to streamline certain aspects of their health policies specifically for Nigerians.
It is a damning indictment of what we have not been able to provide for our own citizens in this country, such that a great many feel they have to go elsewhere, at great cost to the individual and collective purse.
12. I must say that I have always been a strong advocate of mutually beneficial collaborative arrangements. When the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria paid me a visit late last year, I touched on the need for authorities in that country to partner with the Nigerian Government in encouraging Indian investors to also build and maintain world-class health facilities here. With Nigeria’s upward review in the Ease of Doing Business index, coupled with the right government support, I have no doubt that Public Private Partnership (PPP) will yield a positive result for our medical system, so that we may begin to reverse the trend of medical tourism.
13. In addition, we must find a way to reverse another negative trend in the system, which is the gradual loss of our doctors and brightest brains to foreign medical institutions. This drain in medical expertise is plain to see, and should be a major concern for all of us. In acknowledging the feats and strides of our citizens in the diaspora, we must also recognise the need to build, harness and sustain local content. We cannot achieve our collective goals as a people without developing this country to the point where we are self-sufficient.
14. Let me assure you all that we in the National Assembly are always focused toward policies that positively affect the lives of the average Nigerian. In so doing, amongst other duties, we seek to provide not just the legislative framework but the political will for institutions such as yours to get things done.
15. To effectively revisit and review existing laws as pertain to the health sector, the NMA – given its leadership role and the expectation of the public that is looking unto you – must be at the forefront of engaging the National Assembly and providing the requisite information for the continuous deliberation and understanding of lawmakers. As you do so, let me extend to this gathering the assurance that the 8thNational Assembly is desirous of examining, amending and updating, as applicable, existing health laws and enacting new ones, to bring us to where we need to be as a nation.
16. All these can be done with your support and collaboration, which we shall continue to rely on. I thank you all for your advocacy, your hard work and tenacity on behalf of Nigerians. Your passion and integrity are the hallmarks of this great Association, and are a credit to us all. Together, we shall revive this sector, for social inclusion and in providing health and education to all Nigerians, for a stronger nation.
17. I congratulate the outgoing President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) for his achievements – and also for laying a solid foundation for his successor who, I am sure, will work just as hard to ensure that the medical sector in this country attains an enviable status regionally and worldwide.
I wish you all a successful conference.
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE