By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja
A bill seeking mandatory and free healthcare service for all Nigerian children, Tuesday, scaled through second reading in the House of Representatives.
Titled “Bill for an Act to make Health Care Service Delivery Free for all Children in Nigeria; and for Related Matters (HB. 1504)”, it is sponsored by Hon. Bello Kaoje (APC, Kebbi).
Kaoje who led the debate on the general principle of the bill at plenary said it was first introduced in July this year.
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The lawmaker said that with the Federal Government healthcare initiative, Save One Million Lives (SOML), it is therefore pertinent to make medical services free for children in Nigeria, essentially because of the risks they face.
He said, “Children’s health needs are significantly different from those of adults. By nature, children grow and develop at rapid rates, placing them ai special risk of being affected by illness and injury. If health problems are not identified and treated, they can affects a child’s cognitive, physical, behavioral, and emotional development. The Bill will give the following unique and immediate benefits. The health care services shall include diagnoses, treatment, prevention of illness and other physical and mental impairment in children in Nigeria.
“The services shall be rendered by the Government Hospitals in Nigeria. The services shall cover referral cases of children from other state, Local Government hospitals or any other private hospital in Nigeria. Monitoring and implementation of the Bill to ensure implementation of this Act, upon commencement, the Federal Ministry of Health shall make definite procedures, guidelines as well as monitor and implement the provisions of this Act, coordinate free health care services delivery to the children in Nigeria and ensure transparency and accountability in the free health care services delivery to the children in Nigeria.”
Opposition was however mounted against the bill when the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta), in his contribution said that the objective of the bill had already been provided for by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHDA) in all healthcare centres in rural communities to which the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila sought to know if the services were really free.
Elumelu: “Yes in the rural area. They are all there, so what you could do, there’s no need to rush, pick up that healthcare Act and go through it to see if I’m contradicting in my submission.”
Similarly, the Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) said that more enlightenment needed to be made on the bill.
“The duty and response as a parliament is to ensure, good healthcare delivery to our citizens. I have also taken into cognizance what my leader (Elumelu) has said which is also germaine. The sponsor of the Bill should be allowed to address us on the economics of it. It will be very helpful. I will also like to get some enlightenment regarding the Federal Government being responsible for primary healthcare a responsibility also that’s also being done by the local government and state governments. So that when we are talking about restructuring we should take these things into consideration. I think we should get some enlightenment on these”, he said.
Corroborating Okechukwu’s position, Hon. Solomon Maren (PDP, Plateau) said that more studies needed to be conducted on the bill, asking the House to step the bill down.
But in his contribution, Hon. Gudaji Kazaure (APC, Jigawa) supported the bill, saying it was in the interest of the Nigerian children.
“This is a very simple issue. It’s a policy of primary healthcare and this bill is trying to make it compulsory for all children to receive healthcare delivery free. This is a very important Bill, Minority Leader. If we pass this Bill, we do something very nice as the 9th Assembly and Mr President will assent to it. There’s no existing law that says healthcare delivery for children is free. So this bill is in order”, he said.
In his remarks, Speaker Gbajabiamila noted the concerns raised.
He said that the bill if passed into law will give the needed push to all related laws.
“Gbajabiamila , I think Hon. Kaoje Bill is pursuant to the constitution, section 17. In the provisions you can see what the constitution is trying to do. And this falls in line to promote family lines, assist those who are in need. If put all those provisions together, he’s now giving teeth to it by saying , that even in 15 years time, a government must comply with this law, not leaving it to policy. I think the point has been made”, he said.
The Bill was eventually adopted after getting a favorable majority support and referred to the House committee on healthcare services for further legislative action.