President Muhammadu Buhari, on May 29, 2015, mounted the Nigerian political stage as the president to fulfil his campaign promises which were anchored on the “Change” mantra. Like every stage performance, there are always spectators. For more than three years now, Nigerians are the president’s spectators. Due to the president’s health condition and the strikes currently rocking the health sector, it is imperative to revisit the salient items in the president’s 2015 health campaign promises to assess how he has fared in that regard. Some of the president’s health campaign promises are reviewed below.
The president said he would “prioritise the reduction of the infant mortality rate substantially; reduce maternal mortality rates to the levels acceptable by the World Health Organisation.” There is no doubt that infant and maternal mortality rates in most countries have decreased since the inception of this century, and Nigeria is not an exception. This is due to improvement in science and technology, better healthcare delivery systems and quality health education. These successes have been in place before the advent of this administration. To attribute them to President Buhari is simply giving honour to who honour is not due.
The president promised to “increase the number of physicians from 19 per 1000 population to 50 per 1000 through deliberate medication education as epitomised in nations such as Ghana.” Practically nothing has improved in this regard. In fact, due to the ailing economy and hardship in the country, a lot of medical personnel are leaving the country to other countries where better pay and job security are guaranteed. It is impossible to increase the number of physicians from 19 to 1000 per population to 50 to 1000 with the dilapidated healthcare infrastructures and deficient paraphernalia that define Nigeria’s hospitals today. The proposed increment of the national health expenditure per person per annum from 10,000 naira as it was before May, 28 2015, to 50,000 naira, as the president promised, is a far cry from today’s reality.
The president also promised to “increase the quality of all federal owned hospitals to world class standard by 2019.” The president should, for once, take hospital tours in federal-owned hospitals and witness mediocrity for himself. The president’s wife, Aisha Buhari, last October, shocked Nigerians when she said the X-ray machine in the State House Clinic that caters for the health needs of the presidency was not functioning. This year, Nigeria spent 3.9 per cent of its budget on healthcare, a fraction of the 15 per cent target set by the United Nations. This statistics indicates that Buhari’s government does not take healthcare serious. From the current look of things, come 2019, federal-owned hospitals would still be a parody of anything world-class.
Furthermore, the president promised to “invest in cutting edge technology such as tele-medicine in all major health centres in the country through partnership programmes with communities and privates sector.” This indicates that the president was in love with big-sounding words when he was drafting this promise. Unfortunately, big-sounding words cannot do the job. Cutting-edge and telemedicine in Nigeria’s government hospitals are nothing but a mirage.The president also promised to “provide free ante-natal care for pregnant women; free healthcare for babies and children up to school going age and for the aged.” Anybody who has gone to government hospitals knows that nothing there is free. The least that could be done is to reduce medical fees for pregnant women, children and the elderly. In fact, there had been cases where some pregnant women, after delivery, were not discharged because they could not afford the bills. Thousands still die on the daily basis in government hospitals, including children and the elderly, because they could not afford medical bills.
The president also promised to “boost the local manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and make non adulterated drugs readily available.” Quackery, bad economy and high cost of production are major problems Nigeria’s pharmaceuticals are still facing today. Inability of the government to effectively checkmate and prosecute quacks in the pharmaceuticals has led to the proliferation of adulterated and illicit drugs. Nigeria’s porous borders and the underhand activities of some customs and immigration officers have led to the importation of harmful drugs that have wrecked the health of Nigerians. Lastly, the president promised to “ban medical tourism by our politicians from May, 29 2015.” It was estimated that Nigerians spent $1bn (£690m) on foreign medical trips in 2013—which is still probably the case today—and it is disheartening that the president and his household are encouraging this act.
The president, since he resumed office, has gone for medical treatment abroad for more than three times. His son, Yusuf Buhari, was flown abroad last year December when he sustained a head injury while riding a motorbike. Three weeks ago, while some health workers in government hospitals were, and are still, on national strike, the president left the country to the UK for a four-day medical attention where he would enjoy real cutting-edge and telemedicine. Had it been the president made good of his health campaign promises there would not have been any need for him to travel abroad for treatment.
In August, 2017 when the president returned from a 103-day medical tourism in the UK, he delivered a speech where he said, according to Sahara Reporters, that, “I promised to end medical tourism if elected president of Nigeria. Two years after, it has not happened.”In the same speech, he was also attributed to saying, “As part of my renewed commitment to this country, in my remaining days as your president, I will make sure that no president of Nigeria will again have the need to travel abroad to receive medical treatment.” But three weeks ago, he was in UK for a four-day medical treatment.