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Health Minister rejects five bills over duplication, cost of governance

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The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire on Tuesday kicked against five bills currently before the House of Representatives, seeking to establish new institutions in the health sector.

Ehanire who spoke at a public hearing on five bills and 12 motions organised by the House Committee on Healthcare Services said the establishment of the proposed institutions will amount to duplication of functions with existing ones and add to the cost of governance.

Zainab Shariff who represented the Minister said, the bill for an act to establish the public health practitioners council of Nigeria is a duplication of efforts and in conflict with the respective acts establishing the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), National Primary Healthcare Development Agency as well as Africa Institute of Public Health Practitioners.

“These are regulatory bodies under the Ministry that are already performing the stated functions in this proposed bill. The Federal Government is already working to harmonise the agencies which have similar functions,” Shariff said.

“This bill will further add to the cost of governance through the creation and proliferation of councils, boards or agencies whose functions have already been taken care of by the provisions of the acts of the aforementioned. It is the Ministry’s considered view that the bill is not necessary and should be stepped down.

On the bill for an act to establish a minimum standard for healthcare facilities, she said the Federal Ministry of Health has contributed a lot to ensuring establishment of the minimum standard for healthcare facilities through various activities.

“The Federal Ministry of Health in 2017 inaugurated the first National Tertiary Health Institutions Standards Committee.
The Committee’s functions include; advise the Minister on matters affecting the establishment of tertiary institutions in Nigeria, establish the minimum standard for tertiary health institutions in Nigeria, make relevant investigations and recommendations to the Federal and State Government on Tertiary healthcare services in the national interest.

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“This bill is a duplication of efforts and runs contrary to the existence of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency and this Committee that was set up. Furthermore, health being on the concurrent list, the states should be left to handle the secondary healthcare standard. The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency is already supporting the States on the standards. If this bill becomes law then the Committee that is set up by the National Health Act will become useless,” she said.

According to the Minister’s representative, the bill for an act to establish a Decontamination Centre within each of the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will add to the cost of governance when it creates an additional agency.

For the bill to establish the Nigerian Food Vendors Regulatory Agency, Shariff said in view of the functions it intends to carry, it is overlapping with existing government agencies and extant laws.

“According to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Food/Agricultural issues are matters that are legislated over at state level – residual issue. Therefore, a federal agency can not be constitutionally empowered to oversee food vendors across the country. This is the sole responsibility of state and local governments.

“The bill is in contradiction with the Federal Ministry of Health National Policy on food safety that has established a harmonised food safety structure. It is the Ministry’s considered view that the bill be stepped down to avoid duplication of efforts and anarchy in the food control system,” she said.

While rejecting the bill for an Act to make Healthcare Services free for all children in Nigeria, Shariff said: “With the current realities, economic challenges and dwindling funds, it will be difficult to have free healthcare service for children.

“There should be more public enlightenment to get every child enrolled in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Community Based Health Insurance Scheme, State Health Insurance Scheme which provide healthcare service at subsidised rates”.

Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House while declaring the hearing open, said due to the dire realities of the country’s public finances, stakeholders should consider the possibility of achieving the bill’s objectives without imposing additional obligations on Nigeria’s public finance.

Gbajabiamila who was represented by Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Deputy Chief Whip said the bills and motions reflect the enormous importance that the 9th House of Representatives placed on public health, access to quality healthcare and conditions of service of those who work in healthcare services across our country.

“Each of these bills is important as are the motions. All of you here today have a considerable amount of work to do in making sure that the objectives of each of these bills and motions are fully met. Several of these bills are establishment bills that seek to address critical gaps in healthcare services by creating new governing institutions,” the Speaker said.

Tanko Sununu, Chairman of the House Committee Healthcare Services in his welcome address said for health to be effective, the system must be strengthened and resilient to be able to absorb shock as witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “It is therefore, mandatory to have a legal framework that will be able to guide the response to pandemics and also to guide the dealing with patients and healthcare providers.”