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President Muhammadu Buhari is again on another medical tour abroad. Many Nigerians are angry over this, especially as the APC promised to stop all medical tourism and build a better health care system during its 2015 campaigns.  Civil servants are banned from going abroad for health care, but the ‘honourable’ head of the government spends most of his time in London hospitals.

Only the rich can afford proper medicines and hospitals. The liberalisation of health care with the introduction of user-fees, out-sourcing and Public Private Partnerships (privatisation) means that our health services are being run for profit and most people cannot afford these services.

Budgetary allocation to the health sector in the 2017 budget is a meagre 4% meaning that most people will have to pay to gain any health-care. In 2016, the government proposed to spend more on capital projects at the State House Medical Centre than it was to provide for the 16 federal teaching hospitals.

The State House Medical Centre provides healthcare for the President, Vice President, their families and other employees of the Presidency.  But despite being lavished with funds, Aso Rock clinic is still not good enough for the President who is treated in the private hospitals of London.

This is a global threat as has been shown in the recent PSI concept note on the Human Right to Health Global Campaign:

”More than 1 billion people live in poverty and have no access to drinking water, while 2.6 billion have no access to sanitation. Wars, internal conflicts and climate change continue to claim tens of thousands of lives, leaving millions more in utter misery. Health workers pay with their lives for being at the fore front of the fight against natural, man-made, and epidemiological disasters, often working without adequate protection or remunerations as the Ebola, Zika, and MERS outbreaks have recently demonstrated.”

This concept note also provides a short diagnosis of the massive health problems in Nigeria, using the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), which is a federal tertiary health institution as an example.

The Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) and the Medical and Health Workers Union (MEWHUN), have been leading the Save LUTH Campaign since 2015. The campaign has been met with the victimization of workers through suspensions, harassments, and pay cuts.

Dr Sola Adeyelu was recently reinstated by the courts, but has been denied the right to write his final consultancy examinations. Dr Akeremale and Dr Olorunfemi are also currently suspended.  Most workers at Lagos University Teaching Hospital are also owed many months of arrears and allowances.

While the LUTH management has been running anti-worker adverts in various newspapers costing millions of naira, the hospital does not have a functional ambulance, or even a multi-channel monitor that only costs #900,000.

Public Private Partnerships are being used at Lagos University Teaching Hospital to execute projects and commercialize major areas like the Emergency Unit. Here, patients are made to pay a whopping N50,000 for treatment.

The ongoing HEALTHCARE IS ENDEARNGERED IN LUTH campaign, supported by the Joint Action Front (JAF), stands in defence of the right to standard health for all. Other radical groups need to also be part of this struggle. It is quite encouraging that the different unions in the hospital have started working together in one accord through joint congresses and strikes.

A striking example of this new spirit of unfettered solidarity under the platform of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) was the protest rally organised on May 24. Members of MHWUN, NANNM and SSATHURAI took action together. And what was the response of management. In the most callous demonstration of utter disdain for saving lives, it locked out patients, in an attempt to frustrate the rally!

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The Prof Bode-led management is condemned to loot the little resources in Lagos University Teaching Hospital as looting is the official character of the ruling class and its agents. The battle must also be directed towards the ministry of health and other state agencies who are complicit in the LUTH lootings and under-development. Their goal is to sell the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and all other available public health facilities.

Access to decent modern health care should be a human right. Other civil society groups, students, and youths need to join the battle to save LUTH and reinstate the victimized doctors. We must as well start a massive campaign against medical tourism which only benefits the few rich people. In addition, we need to campaign for the allocation of at least 15% of government budgets to health care (as agreed in the international Abuja meeting in 2001).

It is a grand insult to our collective will and our democracy for only President Buhari and the rich to have access to good health care through medical tourism.  In contrast, working people are left to pay through their nostrils in patronising certified “death centres” like Lagos University Teaching Hospital.

by Kunle Wizeman Ajayi