Just a few months after the Joint Heath Sector Union (JOHESU) suspended its nationwide strike which lasted for several weeks, the recently suspended nationwide strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) again put Nigerians in another phase of groaning.
As industrial action remains incessant in the country, poor Nigerians seeking medical attention continue to groan in pain as they are left with the sad choice of either approaching expensive private health centres, patronizing quacks or resign to fate.
Whereas the idea behind the frequent strikes may be justified, the common man on the street always bear the loss; considering its implication on more than 50 per cent of Nigerians who are living below $1 per day.
Findings revealed that the most vulnerable in this group of people are the pregnant women and under five children especially the poor among them who cannot afford the exorbitant bills from private hospitals as their only hope to receive quality healthcare would be the public hospitals that are often time on strike.
Recently, when organised labour declared its now suspended strike, Nigerians, especially those at the lower rung of the social ladder, suffer untold hardship and indeed, pregnant women appear worst hit. One of these women, Mrs Chidinma Okeke, who recently gave birth to a twin at a private hospital in Lagos, is one of those that were grossly affected by the just suspended nationwide strike by NLC.
Okeke, who fell into labour on Friday, 28th of September, 2018, never envisaged that she would be locked up in hospital due to the fact that her husband who is a taxi driver cannot afford to pay her medical bills.
According to her, she knew her husband’s pocket, hence the reason why she initially registered with Ogudu Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) in Lagos state.
Okeke lamented that on the fateful day she fell into labour, she didn’t bother to go to Ogudu PHC, because she knew that the workers at the PHC would not be on ground to attend to her due to the strike, she told her husband to take her to the nearest private hospital.
“When I got to the private hospital, I was already bleeding. The doctor then said I cannot deliver through the normal way, that I must undergo caesarean section. He told us that it is going to cost us N200,000, but because my husband saw how pale I was, he told the doctor to go ahead.
“I finally gave birth to twins: a boy and girl, we are all healthy, but we are still in the hospital because we can’t afford that kind of money. My husband has been moving from one relative to another, but he is yet to get the money. We have been able to raise N10,000. We are begging Nigerians to come to our aids.”
Though, not able to pay the bill, Mrs Okeke is still better than most women living in Lagos that would opted for Traditional Birth Attendants and end up dying while trying to give birth, hence the main reason for the high prevalence rate of maternal deaths in the country.
Experts have however urged the federal government to find a lasting solution to the crisis, which has characterized the nation’s health sector, forcing patients to patronise private health institutions and herbal medicines.
Also, the way out of the frequent strikes that Nigerians have witnessed in the past few years, according to stakeholders is for governments at all level to institute health insurance scheme in the various states in Nigeria.
According to stakeholders, it will not only help to avert the needless deaths due to the crippled health system, but it would also help to reduce the agony people go through in trying to access medical services when there are strikes.
The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was established under Act 35 of 1999 Constitution by the Federal Government of Nigeria to improve the health of all Nigerians at an affordable cost through various prepayment systems.
The scheme claims to be totally committed to securing universal coverage and access to adequate and affordable healthcare in order to improve the health status of Nigerians, especially for those participating in the various programmes/products of the Scheme.
However, observers believe that NHIS is still elusive for many Nigeria, as only a few have access to the scheme while many still pay out of pocket to access health care in the country.
This has also been identified as part of the obvious factors why Nigeria may not be able to achieve the global goal for universal health coverage by 2013.
Meanwhile, in Lagos State, the commissioner for health, Dr. Jide Idris, said the Lagos State Health Scheme (LSHS) will be launched this year, adding that the state government will pay 75 per cent of the premium while public servants will pay 25 per cent.
It would be recalled that the premium payment for a family of six is N40,000 per year and premium for single enrolment is N8,500 per year. A premium subsidy of 75 percent was approved by the Lagos State Executive council for public servants.
Idris said the LSHS is a compulsory health insurance program established by the enabling law of the State to ensure all residents of Lagos State have access to affordable and quality healthcare. He stressed that the scheme is aimed at protecting people living in Lagos from financial distress resulting from huge medical bills.
The general manager, Lagos State Health Management Agency (LASHMA), Dr. Peju Adenusi, while giving an overview of the scheme explained that the LSHS Bill was signed into Law in May 2015 adding that the law established, LASHMA, LSHS and the Lagos State Health Fund (LASHEF) will serve as a basket of funds from several sources for the provision of health care services for the enrolled population.
Adenusi noted that the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA) registration number shall be a prerequisite for accessing any benefit available under the schemes.
She disclosed that the services to be provided under the scheme otherwise known as benefit package will include antenatal and postnatal care, normal delivery and Caesarian Operation , care of newborn, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV, immunization, growth monitoring and promotion, management of childhood illnesses, family Planning and counseling and adolescent reproductive health care.
While NLC may have suspended the strike, the pains that most Nigerians went through during the few days, cannot be easily erased.
To this end, experts have opined that government should take proactive measures to resolving issues with workers rather than waiting for them to embark on industrial action before calling for discussion.
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