“Corruption in Health sector, worse than that of Judiciary-” NANNM chairman
The chairman of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Nurse Wale Olatunde in this interview with Aljazirahnews laments the rot in the health sector and calls for a forensic appraisal of the sector to make it more competitive. Excerpts-
Interview by Mariam Sanni
As the National Chairman of NANNM, what has been your major achievement?
For the last six months, one of the things I can say I have been able to achieve is the unity of nurses. We have about 56 federal teaching and specialist hospitals nationwide and some of them also include those under education, health institutions and universities’ communities and we have been meeting. One of the areas of convergence is this scientific conference which is a tool for improving the skills and knowledge of all members. The six months I have been in control is too short for me to say this is what I have achieved.
What are your visions and strategies on ground to accomplish them?
We are reaching out because we believe in dialogue. Let me also place it on record that nurses do not take delight in going on strike. When you see nurses go on strike, others would have gone on strike 5 times early. Let me give you an example. We won an award that made us professionals in 1981 but because the Federal Ministry of Health did not implement the full judgement given, it is a thing we would have gone on strike ever since.
All effort, negotiation and threats of strike and all the rest came in. Again, we were forced to go to court in 2010. 1981 to 2010 on almost the same issue! The National Industrial Court again reaffirmed the industrial panel award. The minister of health was there, the attorney general was there, minister of labour was there. Despite their submissions against our position the court in its wisdom gave the judgement in our favour. The federal ministry of health appealed the case twice and on the two appeals they were sent out for lack of merit that they should go and implement. And as talk to you today federal ministry of health is yet to implement fully. On the contrary they have even worsened things on ground. That is the situation we found ourselves.
What is NANNM’s request from the federal government?
Well, it will be in two dimensions. One I will talk about our work and the other one will be on the welfare of my nurses. On our work, we are living witnesses to what our hospitals look like. They are not issues I should be telling you, they are issues that it is people on ground that should be telling you and of course we won’t say our hospitals are what they should be in terms of infrastructure, in terms of medical equipment, in terms of medical consumables and in terms of payment. A situation when you come to hospital and you pay for virtually everything on a cash and carry bases is bad.
And that is why one of the sub themed lecture we are taking here is ‘health service- is it a social service or a business enterprise?’ Let us know maybe it is a social service or a business enterprise. But the way some of them are going about, it is purely a business enterprise, forgetting that health care delivery is a social service and that if you don’t take care of this, the government will be paying more in time. So, we want them to look into this.
On the issue of our members’ welfare, if you look at the federal ministry of health there is discriminatory payment of allowances and salaries and yet we are doing the same job, then how do you think people will be happy
There is always this power tussle in the health sector, where the doctors are always assuming the headship of the group. How true is this assumption and how can it be rectified?
Anybody can assume headship if you ask me, nobody will say his own is not the best. As far as I am concerned there is nobody that is the head of the health sector, it is wide. The same prerequisite is what we entered and it is a matter of choice as far as am concerned in whatever area you function. So, let the best among be known using a very verifiable yardstick to determine who should head at any point in time and it should not be a kind of birth-right to anybody. Do you want to compare a nurse with a degree with 25 years’ experience with a doctor with two years’ experience in practice and clinical administration? Yes, the doctor will not do the nurse’s job and the nurse will not the doctor’s job. But when it comes to clinical practice and clinical administration it is different ball game. The experienced person should be in charge.
How will you assess the financing of the health sector in Nigeria?
Horrible, very horrible. For the last twenty years, none of our budget has gone beyond 8% of the annual budget and WHO recommended 15% of the annual budget to go for health. It was only during the Yar’Adua government that we had 8%. Others were below 6% of total budget expenditure and moreover we should remember that most medical equipment are sourced from abroad they are not locally manufactured. And that is one of the things that is responsible for the decline in the standard of clinical output. It is not because the professionals are not good but it is when they are subjected to using substandard equipment. For example as I talk to you today in this country, there is no cancer treating machine there is none. The best bet for you is to go to Ghana or India to get treated
We may not lay the absolute blame on the doorstep of governments, some of these things bother on corruption. Two Chief Medical Directors have been taken to court by the EFCC on corruption charges and am sure if more search light is beamed on the financial management of health sector it will be worse than the judiciary. And it is in Nigeria that all things are allowed, that was why a donor agency said they are no more longer pumping money into Nigeria.
I want to believe that the health sector is worse than the judiciary except proven otherwise. Yes, that is where I work and I hear the figures released every day at the health sector. As the chairman, I take reports from all hospitals federal teaching and specialist hospitals throughout the country. With what I hear, it is not commensurate with the huge investment of government. And that is why we are calling on the government to declare a state of emergency in the health sector and forensically review that ministry otherwise no matter what, even if we pump our 45% of budget into health it will still not show results.
Could you mention some other challenges of the health sector as they affect NANNM?
Well, everything mostly bothers on finance. It is accepted that the government alone cannot finance it and that is why we are calling on the public from our fields. We a are looking at the area of partnering with relevant bodies. In the treatment of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria today, the nation is partnering with the American government. Also in the treatment of polio. Nigeria is blessed with rich people either rightly or wrongly at least we are hearing revelations of people keeping millions in their homes. If some of these cash recovered is pumped back into the economy, it will be a good thing.
The rate at which health practitioners go abroad to seek greener pastures is alarming. Do you think there can be a permanent solution to this?
Two things I dare say we must take note of. For every health professional that leaves, 10 nurses have gone For one pharmacist to go abroad, 10 nurses have gone. It is a pathetic thing. Unfortunately, we are losing our good hands to foreign nations. How can we address this? One is by providing conducive working environment and then a motivating enumeration. Those are the two things government can do? It is not money alone sometimes.
What is your advice for the government to better the lot of the health sector?
Simple. The government should do forensics review of that area, by the time you do you will be able to get the appropriate things in place. No matter the billions they pump into, it will not show as presently constituted because there are a lot of drains. The way they did in judiciary should be replicated here too.
The government should first block linkages, and then make the equipment and infrastructures available. The issues are not building hospitals. If you build new hospitals it will end up the same way, why don’t we develop existing structures, dilapidated buildings of these hospitals put them back in place, repair dilapidated beds and chairs, put them back in place and then put up some modern structures.
What is your advice to nurses and midwives in Nigeria?
We have just one country which is Nigeria and we should continue to consider this country as our own. No matter how bad it is, let it be our own contribution towards salvaging the country. We should not because of problems at hand now neglect our responsibilities. Let us all put hands together. I know one day we will get there.