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Access to equipped health centre at minimal cost is everyone’s right – Obasi

Chinonso Obasi is the National President of the Nigerian youth Union. In this interview with Gift Wada, he speaks on the reasons behind the recent protest by the Nigerian youths and students leaders over the poor state of primary healthcare and major challenges of Nigeria’s healthcare systems.

Nigeria’s state of healthcare has long been in a poor state, how come you decided to conduct a protest over the country’s poor state of primary healthcare now?

From the year 2016 to 2018 I was the National President of the National Association of Nigeria Students, (NANS) and I did agitate for the government to do more so we can have proper medical facilities around the country but until date, nothing has been done about that; most importantly, taking into consideration the global pandemic that we are experiencing. It is indeed time the government put in the necessary Infrastructural facilities.

What are the things you demanded during the peaceful protest?

We have medical facilities all over 774 local government Areas but they are all in bad shape. So we are demanding they be properly equipped and they should meet the standard and we are calling on the Association of Local Government of Nigeria, (AlGON), to energize and mandate their contractors to go back to work, to see that areas where these facilities are not existing; they should be built as quickly as possible to meet the demand of the citizens.

What are some of the agitations against the federal government?

What we are agitating for is very simple. We are saying one hospital or medical centre in a local government is not enough. Every political ward should have a medical or health centre. This is our agitation.

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The president, Muhammadu Buhari has signed the local government autonomy into law but the governors are sitting on it, making it inefficient, it’s as good as nothing is working because the governors don’t want it to work. The same thing is applicable to the health care system, it’s under the purview of the local government system to make it work but because the local government autonomy is not efficient, things are not working well. So we will be demanding that the local government association should spur their contractors into the resumption of constructions where contracts are awarded, let it be quickly attended to and the structure that is already existing should meet the state of art not just structure without equipment.

I lost a brother of mine 1st of January 2021. He was 30 years old and he just got married on 28 December 2020! He died of Lassa fever. The number of persons who die from other illnesses is way more than the number of deaths caused by Coronavirus. If we had proper and well-equipped hospitals in Ebonyi state, my brother’s life would have been spared.

Our demand is that an average person living in a rural area, who have no access to good health care centres like the National hospital in Abuja, should have access to a well-equipped health centre around him with a minimal cost.

In Benue state there is an outbreak of cholera, the government does not have the facilities to curtail it and people are dying. It’s only when big men die that it makes news. Nobody is talking about the poor men dying every day due to a lack of good medical facilities.

How many unions came together to conduct the protest?

The Nigerian Youth Union is a platform that incubates other Unions, we have student Union bodies, student Union government, state-owned youth association, the National Association 0f College of Education Students, the National Association of Polytechnic Students, the President National Association of University Students, we have the zonal coordinators of NANS who were also at the meeting, coordinators of NANS South-South, South East, the zonal coordinator of NANS North Central, the Zonal Coordinator of NANS North West and partly North East, the South West youth parliament, the National Youth Council of Nigeria. We also got in touch with the Ijaw youth council, and the Ohaneze Igbo youth wing. It is a pro-mass demand. We are just the channel to voice it out to the masses so that they could be liberated. Not that the government doesn’t know these things exist, but it is time to charge them to get back to work so that the life of one citizen will matter to all.

How will you rate the healthcare facilities across State and private hospitals in Nigeria?

Private hospitals are heaven on earth but who can afford it? they are expensive. Only those who steal from the public funds are able to access it. Those given the mandate to represent us as leaders are the owners of these hospitals. Businesses own little infrastructures, but most private infrastructures are owned by politicians. Some of them use people’s name to run it. The private hospitals are perfectly working fine but it is for the highest bidder. An average citizen who can’t even afford a meal can’t patronise private hospitals.

On the other hand, the public hospitals are all death traps, the equipment is lacking. I was having a conversation with a popular doctor when he told me that some equipment that is meant to meet the demands of people are kept wasting without the use and nobody cares about it. He spoke about certain equipment that has a lifespan of five years but it had stayed unused for two years. There is usually a nonchalant attitude from the management of our public hospitals. There is equipment that needs to maintain a certain degree of temperature yet they lack a power supply to maintain them. Most of the public health centres have good structures but lack the necessary equipment

What do you think have happened with the provisions made by the federal government to build state-of-art primary health centres across 774 local governments?

The government always dedicate some amount of money for projects but our concern is that they don’t go the extra mile to ensure the money is properly utilized, so corruption is eating deep into our system. Corruption is not just about politicians embezzling money, the lack of appropriating jobs that are already paid for is also corruption. The government needs to start monitoring awarded projects in the health sector to ensure delivery.

Corruption in the health sector can’t be overemphasized. An average person in the rural area sees anyone on a white or blue apron as a nurse or doctor. Some of the health centres and hospitals there are run by midwives or even dentists, those entitled to positions are not the ones occupying them. The health practitioners there take advantage of the people asking them to pay for some services that are meant to be offered freely. Some of these health workers make unbelievable huge returns by taking advantage of the citizens in the rural areas. There is a need for proper monitoring of projects and placement of qualified people to spare head different positions in the health sector. The right persons are not occupying the right positions in the health sector because the sector has been politicized. People who are not qualified lobby for placements in the health sector these are some of the challenges facing the sector.

If Nigeria’s health care systems are not revamped between this time and the next five years, what do you think will be the consequences?

There will be an increase in the death rate. In 2017 when I was the president of the National Association of Nigeria Students, (NANS), the former president of NANS in 2011, was sick, he had liver cirrhosis and needed a liver transplant. There was no place in Nigeria where he could undergo the treatment so we had to take him to India. I raised N13.8million, which was the total cost for his medical trip. We flew him to India but unfortunately, he died five minutes on arrival at Delhi Airport. His case was different because he had someone like me who had people’s interest at heart who went the extra miles to source money for him to travel. There are lots of people out there dying because they have no one to cater to or speak for them. A lot of sicknesses like hepatitis are killing people; they don’t even know there are immunization centres for this sickness. The campaign is low. If things are not done properly, if facilities are not made available, in the next five years life wouldn’t be meaningful. When you see nothing inspiring, nothing to hold on to, death will seem an alternative. Hopefully, things wouldn’t get that bad because the agitation we want to start is going to be a continuous process until the desired result is achieved. The big men can’t keep travelling out for treatment leaving the poor masses to suffer this lack of health infrastructure. As an average person who has no connection in the presidency or House of Representatives, all we can do now is to speak out and demand a change.

How do you think a public-private partnership can help address health care challenges in Nigeria?

The private-public partnership (PPP) can go a long way to help but the Nigerian Government from records is always unfaithful when the need to complying with an agreement arises. This’s my fear of PPP. The government has all it takes to give its citizens what is needed. The primary aim of the government is to make life easier for her people. The PPP is also good because there are people in the health business and merging efforts with the government is an encouraging idea. However, before getting to that, the government should leave it up to expectation before considering the PPP.

What policies does the health sector currently need for the desired change?

We need a policy that would clearly state that all political wards should have well-equipped facilities and should be managed by only those qualified, that is the policy we should canvas for. Don’t forget if it’s worth it

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