•Seek National Assembly support for law to enhance faith-based hospitals’ role in service delivery
By Cosmas Omegoh
Sickness is not a friend. It is a foe, experts insist. Like a cunning crocodile in murky waters, sickness stalks mankind, ceaselessly tormenting its teeming victims at every turn. It challenges everyone not minding their social standing, their tribe or tongue, clime or creed. Sometimes it does so savagely, forcing some to look like vegetable before finally delivering its devastating uppercut – death. That done, it forces the clear import of the time-hallowed dictum: “Vanity upon vanity is vanity,” to go full cycle.
With this telling truth in mind, two Christian and Moslem groups recently came together to forge closer ties which they believe would lead to improved healthcare delivery to the ordinary Nigerian.
The Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) dropped every imaginary difference that seemingly exists between them to work together. They met at Pope John Paul II Catholic Centre, Abuja to collaborate for the good health of many Nigerians. They wanted the poor in the society mostly rooted in remote and hard-to-reach communities to have access to quality helthcare.
CHAN and NSCIA believe that one of the best ways to improve the health status of the teeming poor is to collaborate with the National Assembly: the Senate and House of Representatives to fashion a law that will ensure that faith-based, healthcare providers just like their government-owned counterparts, have access to government support in form of drugs, training, manpower, funding and other accruable privileges.
The two groups contend that they run chains of hospitals and primary healthcare centres some of which were established long before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria; that those healthcare facilities have been there for the people in good and bad times, taking tons of loads off government. Their staff never go on strike even when government hospitals remain closed for months. They also contend that their facilities are almost everywhere in very difficult environments where government presence is never felt, providing healthcare services often at no cost to the beneficiaries. They insist that time has come for government to appreciate their decades of contribution to the health sector. And the best way to do that is to ensure that they are adequately empowered to do more having been doing so for so long.
Daily Sun learnt that some Moslem groups like the Ahmadiya have chains of hospitals in the northern and south-western parts of the country. And same for the Christian groups. For instance, the Catholic Church owns Sacred Heart Hospital, Abeokuta, believed to be the oldest hospital in the country and several others facilities around. Other churches have facilities which are now centres for the training of postgraduate medical students apart from other Christian faith-based tertiary institutions which admit students for undergraduate medical training.
It was therefore soul-lifting when representatives of CHAN drawn from various states of the country walked hand-in-hand with their counterparts from NSCIA to the National Assembly complex, Abuja. The CHAN group was led on the occasion by its Secretary General, Dr Daniel Gobgab, with the guidance of Dr Wale Okediran, Chairman of CHAN’s National Advocacy Committee (NAC) and a former member of the House of Representatives. Also in the entourage were Dr Olusola Ogundeji, from Oyo State; Dr Emmanuel Enyinaya, Abia State; Dr Douglas Nkemdilim, Anambra State; Dr Sunday Lengmang, Plateau State; Dr Daniel Gbadero, Osun State and Dr Wilson Imongan, Edo State. There were also priests and pastors of various churches and Catholic nuns representing their states as well as the CHAN’s Director of Advocacy, Mr. David Omorebokhae.
The NSCIA on its part was led by its Director of Administration, Ustaz Isa Okonkwo, Alhaji Abubakar Inaboya and a host of others.
The first port of call was the office of the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Dr Lanre Tejuoso, representing Ogun State who hurried out of the Senate chamber to receive his guests.
Speaking for the groups, Dr Okediran said: “We are here as Christian and Moslem organisations providing healthcare in the country. The Christians are under the umbrella of CHAN while the Moslems group also includes Federation of Moslem Women Association (FOMWAN) coming under NSCIA.
“We are here to solicit the support of the Senate to ensure that the Federal government gives support to faith-based, health providers. We believed that government can encourage this through legislation to strengthen these organisations as it is done in Ghana, Kenya and other Africa countries.
“We are in the process of getting a bill ready which will encompass all that we are saying here. We therefore ask you to support this bill when it is submitted. We are looking up to you and your colleagues to help us sponsor it when the time comes.”
Reacting, Senator Tujoso said: “Indeed, the government needs you to continue doing what you are doing at the moment because government cannot even fund its own hospitals; that is why the staff are always on strike. We are even looking up to you to take over those hospitals.
“I will go through the documents and do my own research to see how you have been relevant to the system and where we can come in.
“But as it stands, government has no money. We have primary health centres all over the place, some of which have become forested now because no one is going there. However, we still need to bring them back to life and build more. You are helping the government and country and we thank you for it. But the time we are in now is though in case you are talking about funding.
“What you are doing is a good thing and I will give you my support to make it work. It is a relationship we are building and we hope to keep on discussing.”
Dr Gobgab thanked Dr Tejuoso for his time and expressed the hope for a fruitful working relationship.
Next, the group visited the Chairman, Senate Committee on Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the Diaspora, Senator Rose Oko, representing Cross River State.
Shortly after Dr Imoghan introduced the purpose of the visit, the senator said: “At any point, I will support a bill that will promote healthcare delivery in the country provided the emphasis is not on funding because the Constitution does not support government to fund religious groups,” adding that she had, had to help promote the cause of NGOs since she came into the Senate.
The delegation also visited the House Committee Chairman on Health Institutions, Mrs Betty Apiafi, who represents Abua/Odua/Ahoada Federal Constituency in Rivers State, and the Deputy Chairman, Hon Muhammad Jega representing Gwandu/Aliero/Jega in Kebbi State.
Dr Gobgab who spoke on behalf of the group, sought the assistance of the committee in ensuring that the health bill when introduced would receive the support of the members.
Mrs Apiafi who welcomed the idea, said there was hardly anywhere faith-based, health institutions did not receive government intervention. She, however, regretted the lean times, saying that things were hard for government.
“We appreciate your services to the country over the years. Talking about laws, I have a challenge because primary health is on the concurrent list; it is also the duty of local governments and we can’t legislate for them.
“But in the areas of waivers, we can ensure that you don’t pay duties on drugs and equipment you bring into the country.
“It is even heart-warming that Christians and Moslems are coming together as a group to present this. I will read your presentation and figure out the best way to intervene.”
In his remark, Hon Jega commended the group its coming saying: “Your partnership will curtail waste since the two faiths are together. There will be understanding; that is what the country needs now.”
Ustaz Okonkwo described the advocacy visit as a good development maintaining that “it is something that is highly welcomed because beyond the health services we are talking about, it goes as far as making it known that Islam and Christianity are one in the sense that both preach righteousness; they preach God, heaven and good conduct. It is a good development to have members of both faith working together for a common target,” predicting that the collaboration would go far.
His Christian counterpart, Dr Gobgab, expressed happiness in the coalition, stating that, it was imperative in order to improve the lot of the people.
He said the bill when passed into law, would spur faith-based organizations to do more than they were doing at the moment.