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Health Care Bill Scales Crucial Second Reading In Senate

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…. Senate Cautions Against Veto

ABUJA, December 12, (THEWILL) - The Senate, Wednesday, pushed a Health care Bill that seeks to ensure a holistic regulation of the health sector as the Bill scaled through the crucial second reading on the floor of the Senate.

The Bill, sponsored by Senator Ifeanyi Okowa (PDP, Delta), is for an Act to provide a framework for regulation, development and management of a national health system and set standards for rendering health services in the federation, and other matters connected therewith.

However, President of the Senate, David Mark, cautioned against any possible veto of the Bill by President Goodluck Jonathan, saying the Senate knows what to do in such circumstance.

Mark's warning underscores the importance of the health care bill.

THEWILL recalls that the Bill, which was passed in the last (sixth) Senate was not assented to by the President.

In his lead debate, Sen. Okowa decried the omission of a law regulating the health sector, adding that the Bill seeks to improve the quality of live of all citizens; unite the various elements of national health system, promote corporate governance and promote the spirit of collaboration among public and private health professionals.

"The year 2012 African women and children's health score card (African Public Health Info) puts the projected maternal rate and under- 5 mortality for Nigeria at 630 per 100,000 live births and 143 per 1000 live births respectively. This is definitely very poor and unacceptable for our country," Okowa stated.

He added that birth attended to by skilled health workers in Nigeria is put at 39 percent compared to 59 percent, 52 percent and 95 percent in Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia respectively.

All the Senators who contributed to the debate supported it, adding that it was timely.

However, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri cautioned that the Bill might suffer the same fate as it did in the sixth Senate because the major problem it faced then, which bordered on a question over the legality of the National Assembly to make laws on issues in the residual list, was still pending.

Senator Lokpobiri explained that the States had queried that the National Assembly has no right to legislate on the Health Bill, as it was not an exclusive or concurrent matter but a residual matter, which is a sole prerogative of State Houses of Assembly.

Mark however said, " We can pass this Bill. If the state feels that in the process of passing this Bill there are areas where they also can make some laws, they can also make their own provided it is not in conflict with our own.

" But I don't think there is anything that stops us from passing this Bill. As long as in doing so there are areas that have been pointed out in which we should not go too low to areas of building of dispensaries etc. That is my own understanding of the matter as it is now."

On the importance of the Bill, Mark said, "You will see that the Bill ought to have been passed yesterday. There is urgency and haste for us to have this Bill passed because without passing this Bill, what is more frightening is the issue of legal aspect. If things go wrong, you can't sue because there is absolutely nothing protecting the patient from the professional who is negligent in one form or the other.

"But if you look at the statistics that has been provided by this Bill, it is even more frightening. We cannot be in charge of Africa with statistics like this and if the other countries get to know that this is the kind of statistics we have in our health sector, then the claim of being a giant will just amount to nothing at the end of the day."

He further complained about the inability of the country to deal with the polio scourge, saying it is disappointing and disturbing that Nigeria is still actively transmitting polio virus in 2012, which has been eradicated all over the world. He added that it is totally avoidable.

Reacting to concerns by some Senators that the Bill might not be signed like others pending in the executive, Mark said, "as afar as signing this Bill is concerned as far as we pass it, I think we took a decision here before and we are going to stick by that decision. That is a very well taken decision in the best interest of this country. And we thank people for reminding us that if things go the way they did the last time, we have the right to put it right. This is one of the Bills that we have unanimous consent and approval that we should pass it."

The Senate President also warned that the in-fighting in the health sector will not stop the Bill from being passed "because that will be the biggest disservice to this country."