Michael Oche in this feature takes a look at the bold move by the Medical and Health workers union of Nigeria (MHWUN) to establish a 150 bed specialist hospital at a cost of N1.2 billion.
At a time when government is facing the challenge of providing quality healthcare service to Nigerians, the Medical and Health workers union of Nigeria is set to come to the rescue with the building of 150 bed specialist hospital to be located in Abuja.
“We are establishing the hospital so as to provide direct intervention against the high rate of medical tourism witnessed in the country,” National President of MHWUN, Biobelemoye Josiah, told journalists at the official ground breaking ceremony of the MHWUN Specialist Hospital.
Some analysts describe the move by the union as bold and daring, wondering if a trade union has the resources and expertise to carry out such project. But to assuage fears and worries, The MHWUN president said that the sum of N300 million has been mapped out to ensure that the construction of the hospital takes off immediately.
Such news couldn’t have come at a better time than when the country is losing a whooping sum of N175 billion annually to medical tourism, according to former Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu.
Besides, government’s poor budgetary allocation to the health sector, has led to lack of medical equipment at various healthcare centres across the country.
For instance, a sum of N340.45 billion was voted for the health sector in the 2018 budget, representing a paltry 3.9 percent of the total budget. In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari’s first full year in office, out of the approximately N6 trillion budget proposal, only about N250 billion was voted for the health sector, representing 4.17 percent of the total budget.
Given that the budget was prepared using an estimated exchange rate of N199 to $1, it meant that the dollar equivalent of the health budget stood at $1.25 million. 2017 witnessed a budget proposal of N7.4 trillion, with the health sector getting N308 billion, or 4.13 percent. This time, the estimated exchange rate was estimated at N305 to $1, meaning that the dollar equivalent of the health budget for 2017 was approximately $1.01 million.
For a country with a population of over 180 million people, such figures show that the country is in desperate need of all the help it can get to ensure the populace is able to access quality healthcare.
“As outbound medical tourism gradually becomes the preference of patients, the local sector loses the confidence of the populace resulting in low esteem and loss of morale among the health personnel,” Mr. Chukwu said recently at opening ceremony of the 2017 Faculty of Clinical Sciences 10th Faculty Week & Scientific Conference, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife
However, rather than suffer loss of morale, the health workers have decided to take matters into their hands with the establishment of their own hospital, which it said will directly bring succor to the sufferings of many Nigerians who are unable to access quality healthcare.
“The idea to build the hospital was initiated to provide direct intervention against the high rate of medical tourism outside the country. And if only the huge amount of money that leaves the shores of Nigeria daily is utilised to build and equip hospitals in the country, our problem had been half solved. But it’s a pity the reverse is the case,” the MHWUN president explained.
Comrade Josiah who spoke at the official ground breaking ceremony of the hospital that will be seated on 1.4 hectares of land at Dakibiyu District of Abuja, said the hospital will be known as MHWUN Specialist Hospital, and will include staff quarters and other necessary international standard facilities, adding that it be well equipped for quick intervention, referrers, among others for quality health service delivery.
While he said that N300million has already been set aside for immediate take off of the hospital’s construction, he pointed out the hospital will also ensure easy access to healthcare for its members, and that MHWUN will no longer rely only on check-up dues for funding as the hospital is also an investment that will generate funds for the union.
He said that the reason behind the establishment of the hospital was to provide direct intervention against the high rate of medical tourism being witnessed in the country, lamenting that huge amount of money leaves the shores of Nigeria daily.
Venturing into such unknown turf may appear risky, but Comrade Josiah expressed optimism, saying the union which comprises health workers from different fields already have the expertise and will prove to government that it is capable of running a world class hospital
Analysts say the move is the first of its kind and will go a long way to ensure the independence of the union. They argue that, the project will change perception which Nigerians see union as strike mongers.
The hospital according to Comrade Josiah is budgeted to cost N1.2billion and will be completed in the next 18 months. He explained that the union decided to look beyond its members’ welfare, and invest in a project that will positively affect the life of Nigerians and create thousands of jobs.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba also lauded the efforts of the union. Wabba said the hospital is one that would make a difference as it will advance the issue of social justices so that both the rich and poor would be able to access this facility.
Urging members of MHWUN to support the project, he called on the various state chapters to replicate it in their various state councils.
“It would provide quality healthcare to Nigerians and would also bridge the gap of whatever that d been an impediment to having quality healthcare delivery in the country,” he said.