Wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, Monday stunned participants at a two-day stakeholders meeting on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn Child Adolescent Health and Nutrition, RMNCAH+N when she lamented that there was no single syringe at the Aso Rock clinic.
Mr. Buhari also said that the clinic which was budgeted for in the nation’s budget lack drugs and equipment, insisting that the management must explain how the budgetary provision for medical facilities was utilized.
The event was organized by her pet project, ‘Future Assured’, and had in attendance state governors’ wives, development partners, primary health care coordinators and other stakeholders, including the Chief Medical Director of State House Clinic, Dr. Hussain Munir.
Her outburst came barely one week after her daughter, Zahra, equally called out the State House Permanent Secretary, Mr. Jalal Arabi, on social media, asking him to account for the N3 billion.
Speaking in her remarks at the stakeholders meeting held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the First Lady noted that President Buhari spent several months outside Nigeria for medical treatment, and wondered what could happen to ordinary Nigeria despite the budgetary for the State House clinic.
Besides, she disclosed that she was sick some weeks ago and was advised to take the first flight out of the country to London for treatment but she turned down the advise and insisted that she will be treated in Nigeria because there was budget for the State House clinic.
But to her greatest surprise, when a call was put across to the Aso Rock clinic, to find out if the X-ray machine was working, she was told that the equipment was not functional.
She queried why the management of the clinic would be funding new civil construction projects when medical items as ordinary as syringes were not available for patients at the facility.
According to her, “Before I commence my speech, I will like to be realistic and say a few words concerning health delivery system in Nigeria.
“It is very, very, very poor; sorry to say that. I am happy the CMD of Aso Clinic is here, or is he around? Dr. Munir or his representative? Ok Dr. Munir I’m happy you are here.
“As you are all aware for the last six months, Nigeria wasn’t stable because of my husband’s ill-
health. We thank God he is fully recovered now.
“If somebody like Mr. President can spend several months outside Nigeria, then you wonder what will happen to a common man on the street in Nigeria.
“Few weeks ago I was sick as well, they advised me to take the first flight out to London but I refused to go. I said I must be treated in Nigeria because there is a budget for an assigned clinic to take care of us. If the budget is N100 million, we need to know how the budget is spent.
“Along the line I insisted they call Aso Clinic to find out if the X-ray machine is working, they said it is not working. They didn’t know I was the one that was supposed to be in that hospital at that very time.
“I had to go to a hospital that was established by foreigners in and out 100 percent. What does that mean?
“So, I think it is time for us to do the right thing. If something like this can happen to me, no need for me to ask the governors’ wives what is happening in their states. This is Abuja and this is the highest seat of government, and this is Presidential Villa.
“One of the speakers has already said we have very good policies in Nigeria. In fact, we have the best policies in Africa. Yes of course, we have but the implementation has been the problem. So, we need to change our mindset and do the right thing.
“I am sure Dr. Munir will not like me saying this but I have to say it out. As the Chief Medical Director, there is a lot of constructions going on in this hospital but there is no single syringe there; what does that mean? Who will use the building?
“We have to be good in reasoning. You are building new buildings and there is no equipment, no consumables in the hospital and construction is still going on.”
The First Lady said the pitiable condition of health facilities in the country aggravated the impetus to secessionist agitation by the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, when President Buhari was on medical vacation in London.
She said, “Going back to the same health issue in Nigeria, as a result of spending several months by the President outside Nigeria, a 40-year-old man who was still living in his father’s house, created a state out of a state; and that is a major setback for the country and the health sector did not benefit.”
The State House Clinic is meant to offer free medical services to the President, the Vice-President and the families as well staff and other persons duly accredited to carry out some official duties at the State House, Abuja and the annex in Lagos.
In an earlier reaction last week to the development, the State House Permanent Secretary, Jalal Arabi had refuted allegations of fraud levelled at the management of the State House Clinic, saying that only a mad person would steal money from the clinic and toy with people’s lives.
Arabi had said: ‘‘I know people will insinuate and give all sorts of reasons because they don’t ask but it will be foolhardy and madness for anybody in his senses to defraud a medical centre of a kobo and toying with people’s lives.
‘‘No sane person will do that, so the truth of the matter is the hospital is being run on subvention and appropriation; if it comes we pile the drugs; but the truth is the drugs are always overwhelmed by the number of people who use the Centre, because it is not controlled.”
He explained that the problem of funding and inadequate drugs would be tackled by some reforms, which include commercialisation of the medical services at the Clinic and restricting treatment to only patients on National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) whose Health Maintenance Organisations (HMO) or primary health providers are domiciled there.
Recall that the Presidency had last week announced that there was plan to commercialize the State House Medical Centre, SHMF, for better health delivery system amidst mounting allegations of misappropriation and withholding of funds meant for medical supplies in the centre.
President Buhari’s daughter on her post on her Instagram handle @mrs_zmbi, on Saturday raised concerns over the poor state of the hospital despite the N3 billion budgetary allocation in the 2017 budget.
She specifically called out the Permanent Secretary in the State House, Arabi to provide answers as to why simple drugs as paracetamol, syringes and gloves were not available, leaving patients and staff to individually source for those items.
Using the hashtag #statehousepermsecplsanswer, she asked: “why isn’t there simple paracetamol, gloves, syringes..why do the patients/staff have to buy what they need in state house clinic?
“More than N3 billion budgeted for state house clinic and the workers there don’t have equipment to work with? Why?
“Where is the money going to? Medication only stock once since the beginning of the year? Why?”
While clearly avoiding responding to the President’s daughter, the Permanent Secretary said the management will among other things seek the commercialisation of the Centre to boost its revenue and augment the appropriation it receives from the government in the quest for a better qualitative service.
He said, “The Centre is the only health centre in Abuja where patients are not required to pay any dime before consultation.
“In other government hospitals in Abuja, patients are required to pay for consultation, treatment, laboratory tests and others but that has not been the case with the State House Medical Centre.
“The Centre offers free services, nobody pays a kobo for hospital card, consultations or prescriptions and this has taken a toll on the subvention the Centre receives from the government.
“We have some of the best equipment in the country. For instance, to maintain the MRI and other scan machines, we spend close to N2 million monthly. Yet we do not charge a dime for those who require MRI scans in the clinic,” he said.
Arabi said the proposed reforms will ensure that those eligible to use the Centre are NHIS complaint with their Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) or primary health provider domiciled in the clinic.
“We have already created a NHIS desk at the clinic where patients will be required to authentic their profile. If their HMOs are registered in other hospitals they will be required to transfer to the Centre.
“This is another way through which we can boost revenue generation at the hospital and this has started yielding results because the stark reality is there is no free lunch anywhere,” he said.
Arabi also dismissed allegations of misappropriation and withholding of funds meant for medical supplies in the Centre.
“I know people will insinuate and give all sorts of reasons because they don’t ask but it will be foolhardy and madness for anybody in his senses to defraud a medical centre of a kobo and toying with people’s lives.
“No sane person will do that, so the truth of the matter is the hospital is being run on subvention and appropriation; if it comes we pile the drugs; but the truth is the drugs are always overwhelmed by the number of people who use the Centre, because it is not controlled,” he said.
In the 2016 budget, the State House Medical Centre was N3.219 billion which was for the completion of ongoing work as well as procurement of drugs and other medical equipment.
In the 2017 budget, the sum was reduced drastically from N3.89 billion to N331.7 million.