A bill seeking to impose seven years jail term and a fine of N500 million for any public officials who receive medical treatment abroad using government funds has passed second reading at the House of Representatives.
House Of Reps Seeks To Curb Medical Tourism
The bill which was sponsored by a legislator from Edo state, Sergius Ogun, scaled through second reading in the Green Chamber at plenary on Wednesday, February 9.
The legislation seeks to amend the National Health Act, 2014, to make provision for sanctions against any public officer who violates the provisions of the law, especially Section 46.
Section 46 of the act prohibits public employees from seeking medical treatment abroad using public funds — but it does not specify punishment for breaking the law.
The only exception is that if a government official needs medical treatment overseas, it must be on the recommendation of a medical board and approved by a commissioner or minister.
The section reads: “Without prejudice to the right of any Nigerian to seek medical check-up, investigation or treatment anywhere within and outside Nigeria, no public officer of the Government of the Federation or any part thereof shall be sponsored for medical check-up, investigation or treatment abroad at public expense except in exceptional cases on the recommendation and referral by the medical board and which recommendation and referral shall be duly approved by the Minister or Commissioner of health of the State as the case may be.”
But the bill proposed by Sergius Ogun seeks to add a clause stating that any public officer who violates the law “shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N500 million or to an imprisonment term of seven years, or both”.
While leading the debate on the bill, Ogun said the amendment to the health act will discourage medical treatment abroad at the detriment of the country’s health institutions.
He said, “It is no news that Nigeria’s healthcare system is in a deplorable state and needs urgent attention. There is a paucity of infrastructure, dearth of medical personnel, poor standards and many other challenges that need to be addressed.
“The intent of this bill is to spur public officers to pay more attention to our health care sector and take drastic steps to develop and improve on the sector.
“The poor attention being given to the country’s health sector accounts for this and has resulted in a shortage of medical doctors in the country.
“The reason for their exodus abroad is among others a lack of infrastructure in the sector, poor remuneration and government’s unwillingness to pay attention to the sector.”
The legislator said if passed into law, the “excessive medical trips of public officers abroad” will be curtailed and attention will be directed towards fixing the country’s health facilities.
The Minority leader of the house, oby Okechukwu said the proposed law is in line with the “expectations of patriots and parliamentarians”, adding that the bill is aimed at tackling the capital flight being experienced in the country.
The lawmaker said public officers use “various excuses” on medical grounds to go overseas because they have “recourse to the public purse”.
Also contributing, Tajudeen Yusuf from Kogi state said the bill will fill the “lacuna” in the existing act. The essence of a parliament is to deliberately — every time — look at the shortcoming in our law.”
The bill was unanimously voted for when it was put to a voice vote by Idris Wase, deputy speaker of the house. It was subsequently referred to the committee on health institutions for further legislative work.
KanyDaily recalls that the Nigerian Senate had also ordered the State House officials to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari, from embarking on foreign trips for medical treatment.