Some Nigerian lawmakers don’t believe HIV is real- Ex-lawmaker

Lawmakers have failed to pass bills on health sector reform.

A consultant to the Senate Committee on Health and a former member of the House of Representatives, Wale Okediran, has revealed that some of Nigeria’s federal lawmakers still do not believe that HIV is real.

He made the disclosure on Tuesday during the ongoing Abuja +12 summit hosted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, AHF in Abuja, noting that the lawmakers require urgent capacity building on the realities of HIV/AIDS.

“To convince some of them that the virus is real and on the need for them to prioritise health related issues in their deliberations, during one of the advocacy meetings, we planted four very beautiful ladies who are living with the virus among them. When I told them there were four persons seated among them with the virus, you need to have seen the way they scampered! When the four ladies were introduced to them, they were so shocked and surprised and kept on saying. ‘You mean these beautiful ladies are HIV positive?” he said.

Speaking on other required areas of capacity building, Mr. Okediran claimed that less than 50 per cent of the lawmakers have email addresses while less than 20 per cent of them are computer literate.

The consultant also confirmed a media report that showed that some of Nigeria’s lawmakers are HIV positive and are on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

“The MPs (lawmakers) would not want to disclose their status as it is not politically savvy for a politician to do such. A political opponent will use it against them but many of them who are HIV positive are sympathetic to health related issues,” he said.

Nigeria’s health sector in dire condition

Speaking on the condition of the healthcare delivery sector, Mr. Okediran described it as ‘pitiable’ adding, “Each time we want to talk about the health situation and statistics in Nigeria, it’s usually bad news. We have so many health issues to tackle in the country.”

He blamed “brain drain” and poverty as some of the factors preventing improvements in the health sector.

“This is a continent where people spend up to 70 per cent of their pocket expenses on healthcare. 46 per cent of Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day with most of the population not having access to potable water.

“Even the citizens themselves are not helping matters as there are places in Nigeria where you’ll talk for over three hours before you can convince parents to allow their children to be vaccinated,” he said.

He noted that the financing system in the health care sector is as deficient as the delivery system it supports.

“Public spending on health is insufficient and international donor fund is looking shaky in the current economic climate. International donor funds is now becoming a huge source of embarrassment. For instance, 80 per cent of the funds for polio management in Nigeria comes from outside the country. This ought not to be so we’re now working on attaining country ownership,” he said.

He, however, reiterated the need for Nigerians to engage their lawmakers on health issues, stating that this could be done through calling for a bill for the re-constitution of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, already passed in 2007. He also noted the need for a bill against stigmatization of HIV/AIDS patients which is yet to be passed as well as reproducing the health bill- which includes the National Health Insurance bill- which is also yet to be passed.

Streamlining donor support

Mr. Okediran further called on lawmakers to work towards reducing the country’s dependence on foreign aid. He identified corruption as the undoing of Nigeria and the African continent, saying 70 per cent of the monies that come into African countries end up in private pockets.

Nigeria, over the years, has been the recipient of several donor funds. Unfortunately, there are now several donor supports performing the same functions, thus creating a lot of confusion. Mr. Okediran noted that this is unacceptable, hence a need to streamline donor support in the country.

“We have too many of them doing the same thing at the same time. We need to streamline their activities because more harm than good is being done with these incoherent donations from several donors,” he added.

He also called on lawmakers to work with non-governmental organisations as they are in a better position to know the relevance of the content of a bill.

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