Professor Innocent Ujah, the newly elected President of Nigerians Medical Association (NMA) is one man, who is very passionate about the medical profession, his worries is how to help the common man in the street, to get medical attention.
In a special Interview with the Editor of Skybirdnews Group, Mr. Charles Nwaoguji , recently, he says Federal government should create enable environment so that healthcare would thrive, and the common man in the street could benefit.
Prof. Ujah advocates the establishment of the “Healthcare Bank” that would take care of the health sector, adding the sector is poorly funded.
The former Director General of Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), noted that when the bank is fully in a operation, it will help the health personnel, most especially the medical doctors to access loans and build more hospitals and equipment it to world class.
He said that if the agriculture, manufacturing sector have Agric Bank and Bank of Industry that lend to them in single interest rate, why shouldn’t “ Health Sector” have its own bank that would lend loans at single digit rate to the medical personnel.
He stressed that when the doctors are given such loans at a single digit interest rate, they will be able to build world class hospitals, and the issue of medical tourism abroad would stop.
He stated that Nigeria loses N36 billion annually to medical tourism as tens of thousands of Nigerians travel abroad in search of the best treatment.
“We have world class medical doctors, the only challenges we are having in this country is lack of medical equipment. We don’t have enough medical equipment . Government should create enable environment so that healthcare will thrive, if the agriculture and manufacturing sector have banks that lend loans to them at a single digit interest rate, why shouldn’t the “ Health Sector” have its own bank that would also lend loans at single digit interest rate to the medical personnel. We are advocating the establishment of “Healthcare Bank” that will take care of the health sector,” he explained.
He said that a lot of private and public hospitals are not well equipped. With the establishment of this healthcare bank, most of the hospitals will be well equipped and the national health insurance will be taken care of as well. This way, he added, government would be creating enable environment for the health sector to thrive.
Ujah called on the President Muhammadu Buhari – led administration not to relent in his effort to halt medical tourism.
He further said that the federal government should set up a primary health care centre in every political ward so that no one would have to walk more than 5km to any primary health centre.
“We need to work more on our health care services in Nigeria, improve in our attitude to patients and also make sure we have the best equipment, by so doing Nigerians will no longer travel out to get treated abroad,” he added.
In this special interview, the NMA boss spoke on the medical tourism , Challenges facing medical doctors, his priority as newly elected president of NMA and etc,
We should believe in ourselves. That is one way to curtail our travelling abroad for medical tourism. Nigeria has all it takes to be World class medical tourism center. Nigeria have the world class medical doctors to handle any medical treatment . Our doctors are world class. There is no kind of treatment Nigeria doctors cannot handle. It may interest you to known that most medical personnel in abroad that handles treatment, for those, who come for medical tourism are Nigeria doctors. The only challenges we are having in this country is lack of medical equipment. We don’t have enough medical equipment . Government should create enable environment so that healthcare will thrive, if the agriculture and manufacturing sector have banks that lend loans to them at a single interest rate, why shouldn’t the “ Health Sector” do likewise to the medical doctors. We are advocating the establishment of “Healthcare Bank” that will take care of the health sector .
When the bank is fully in a operation, it will help the medical doctors to access loans and build more hospitals and equip it to world class. There are a lot of private and public hospitals that are not well equipped. With the establishment of this health bank, the national health insurance will be taken care of. This way, government will be creating enable environment for the health sector to thrive.
Nigeria loses N36 billion annually to medical tourism as tens of thousands of Nigerians travel abroad in search of the best treatment. The President Muhammadu Buhari – led administration should not relent in his effort to halt medical tourism.
Medical tourism costs the country billion yearly, due to poor service delivery in the country. We need to work more on our health care services in Nigeria, improve in our attitude to patients and also make sure we have the best equipment’s by so doing Nigerians will no longer travel out to get treated.
The federal government should set up a primary health care center in every political ward so that no one would have to walk more than 5km to any primary health center.
If we manage hospitals, we should try to expand the training management. Management and governance are the two areas where we have weakness the reason for me why Nigerians travel abroad for treatment is due to poor service delivery.
How to stop Medical tourism
As part of efforts to develop medical tourism in Nigeria, government should build a world class state-of-the-art hospital in the country in order to provide an affordable health care delivery service to its citizens
If medical business is well promoted as a tourism product, the country would benefit tremendously and earn much-needed foreign exchange.
Challenges facing medical doctors
Nigerian healthcare workers, especially doctors, are migrating to other parts of the world to find better working conditions.
The working conditions are so poor that many doctors become pressed to leave Nigeria right after medical school.
As a newly qualified doctor, your first foray into the labour force is the housemanship, a compulsory one-year internship where you practice under supervision in hospitals across the country.
But like with a lot of things in Nigeria, securing a house job is difficult. Many doctors spend months or years at home looking for a placement. And in many cases, they are left frustrated.
For a lot of people, the only way to get one is through connections. You finish medical school and can’t find space for the internship because you don’t know anyone in those hospitals. This is where the system starts to fail you.
And if you manage to secure and finish your housemanship, you face the same challenge when you apply for your residency, the program that will allow you to qualify as a specialist.
Unfavourable work environment
Those who manage to scale the hurdles of securing housemanships or residency programmes then have to navigate Nigeria’s health sector, with the miserable working conditions and ethical quandaries that come with it.
More than 100 million Nigerians cannot afford to pay bills for treatment in public health facilities. Nigeria currently has no viable system for affordable health care, so low-income families—more than half of the population- don’t have access to formal healthcare.
These health challenges are well-known and Nigeria has drawn global attention for its failing health care system. Although doctors would not want to distract anyone from the plight of patients and citizens, they also suffer because of the malaise. For example, because patients cannot afford the type of services they need, doctors and nurses often have to go against standard procedure to help them.
The sector need help, and despite repeated calls for a more enabling environment and better facilities for workers, the situation has stayed the same. It’s no wonder medical doctors are leaving in droves.
My priority as newly elected president of NMA
Our administration will prioritise the welfare of Nigerian doctors. I would lobby and advocate for improved remuneration, realistic hazard allowance, universal applicability among others. We will look at how to reduce the cost of running the Association by adopting technology for some of our meetings. We will manage our resources with integrity and ensure that international standards of financial management are adopted in NMA in order to enhance accountability and transparency in the day-to-day operations of our Association.
We promise to leverage on the gains of previous administrations, We would open up new frontiers, ensure mutual beneficial collaborations and partnerships with government and other organisations to uphold the dignity and the welfare of the Nigerian doctor. We will improve health delivery of our people. We shall continue to engage other health workers in order to improve inter-professional harmony within the health sector to understand each other and by seeking and pursuing common goals.
What NMA stands for
The Nigerian Medical Association is the largest medical association in the West African sub-region with over 40,000 members from 36 state branches with about 19,000 in Diaspora. 70% of doctors practice in urban areas where only 30% of the population resides. Policy decisions are made by the Association’s
The NMA is at present involved in influencing health policy formulation in an ad hoc manner. This is done by making unsolicited recommendations to government on various health issues and also by making-inputs, whenever invited, to some of the national committee meetings on policy formulations.
The Association holds training courses for doctors, and participates in radio programmes and TV talk shows.
The Association collaboration in specific projects on health issues with individual NGOs and with National Association of Non-Government Organizations on health (NANGOH). Resident Doctor Act should be review to encourage more women to join the Association. Women are very important to us as an association.
There is the need for government to increase healthcare budget from the national budget, currently the budget for health care is very low. The budget cannot do anything. While you see medical doctors leaving Nigeria to other parts of the world for green pasture, is because of lack of incentives. Our doctors are poorly paid when compared to other countries of the world. Government should give more incentives to the doctors.
Way forward after COVID-19
There is the need for a review of the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic by a team of researchers. The evaluation was necessary to ascertain if measures taken so far are appropriate and correct. It is also imperative to know if the measures and recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to curb the spread of the virus are working.
As a researcher, I think we should have a strong research team to be part of PTF. I am not aware that the PTF has a research team and we must evaluate and monitor what we do. We need a research team that will monitor regularly what we are doing otherwise, we will be groping in the dark.
We will continue to interface with government and contribute to the containment of the virus. There are many challenges in the health system in Nigeria. The challenges are enormous and we are ready. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how weak the Nigerian healthcare system is. There are lots of gaps and that made it difficult for the country to respond appropriately to the fight.