Health officials, lawmakers brainstorm on agenda for sector

National Assembly Complex
National Assembly Complex

Principal officers of health committees in the National Assembly and other government officials have outlined an agenda for the health sector for the next four years.

The agenda was detailed in the communique issued after last week’s maiden strategic retreat of Principal Officers of the five health committees of the National Assembly in Abuja.

The objective of the retreat was to define the ”first-ever collective Legislative Health Agenda for Universal Health Coverage (UHC)” for the next four years and acquaint principal officers on the current health policy thrusts in Nigeria’s health sector.

The two-day retreat, which was supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), among other development partners, was well attended by several players in the health sector, including the health ministers, Osagie Ehanire, (substantive head) and Olorunnimbe Mamora (state).

Earlier in his welcome address during the retreat, the Convener and Senate Committee Chairman on Health, Ibrahim Oloriegbe, assured participants of his readiness and that of his colleagues to collaborate with the Executive arm and partners towards achieving the UHC.

Communique

According to a copy of the communique made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Monday, some of the shortcomings of the health sector were observed.

These include: Poor health insurance scheme; Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) running contrary to the provisions of the National Health Act (NHA); BHCPF not yet a statutory transfer; Non- revitalisation of the primary healthcare; absence of tertiary Health Institution Standards Committee; Non-implementation and execution of Appropriation Act; Weak policy implementation oversight, among others.

Agenda

Ensuring speedy passage and assent to the amended National Health Insurance Commission was top among the legislative agenda agreed on.

An effective mandatory health insurance programme has long been identified as necessary to protect Nigerians from out-of-pocket payment for healthcare, a situation partly blamed for the country’s grim health indices.

The previous eighth assembly acknowledged this and in April passed a bill to repeal and replace the NHIS Act with a new one that makes health insurance mandatory.

The bill has been forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari but he has neither signed it nor declined assent.

A PREMIUM TIMES analysis explained why the President should give a nod to the bill especially to make health insurance compulsory for all Nigerians.

While it remains unclear what will happen to the passed NHIS bill, the new principal officers of the ninth assembly, as part of their agenda, resolved to see that the amended bill becomes effective either by passing it again or advocating for its assent.

They also resolved to ensure quick passage of the State Health Insurance Scheme (SHIS) bills for states yet to do so.

Having SHIS is a major criterion for states to enjoy the BHCPF which represents one per cent of the federal government’s Consolidated Revenue and contributions from donor grants set aside to fund the basic health needs of Nigerians.

Amendment of relevant sections of several health laws such as the NHA and implementation of health policies were also on the agenda.

Oversight functions

The lawmakers resolved to undertake effective oversight functions.

”Provide oversight of operations of the NHIS; ensure the BHCPF guidelines reflect the provisions of the Act; monitor and evaluate implementation and impact of BHCPF; provide certificate of Standards for health institutions and other provisions of the NHAct; provide oversight of status of performance of NPHCDA (Human Resource for Health, Availability of medicine, Records); Validate by oversight existing PHC structures among others,” part of the communique read.

Minister’s remarks

Meanwhile, the health minister, Mr Ehanire, said implementing laws, policies and programmes as well as undertaking other necessary actions will strengthen Nigeria’s health system.

He reaffirmed his belief that primary healthcare is the cornerstone of the UHC ”which will help in sanitising other tiers of healthcare delivery in Nigeria”.

“An expanded health insurance coverage will reduce pressure on our tertiary institutions and strengthen them well enough to reduce medical tourism,” the minister noted.

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