Some weeks ago, I attended a press briefing organised by the Assembly of Healthcare Professionals (AHPA) and Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), in Lagos. AHPA and JOHESU members are health care professionals other than the medical doctors.
Speaking at the briefing held at Pharmacy House, the secretariat of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Dr. G. C. Okara, chairman of AHPA, said that it became imperative for AHPA and JOHESU to call yet another press briefing because of some unpalatable developments in the health sector. He reeled off a catalogue of actions and inactions of the health minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, which he said were not only a continuation of the many plots of the minister to make other health care professionals subservient to their medical counterparts but also inimical to ensuring peace and progress in the health sector.
Amongst the actions of the minister that the AHPA helmsman drew the attention of the pressmen to was the proposed new scheme of service for the health sector. Dr. Okara said the scheme was proposed unilaterally by the minister without consultation with any of the professional associations or professional councils in line with due process. While calling on the Head of Service of the Federation to discard the scheme, Dr. Okara described it as a ploy by the minister to impose a new unfair system on other health professionals outside his professional constituency of medicine.
The AHPA helmsman, who is also the president of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN),equally flayed the recurrent delay tactics at the highest level of government when it comes to negotiating with healthcare professionals other than the medical doctors.
Also, aside criticising the minister for having an alliance with the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), the AHPA boss also called on the House of Representatives to conduct a proper public hearing to redress outstanding contentious issues relating to the National Health Bill 2014, especially the controversial Section 1 of the bill, which he said, was an attempt by medical stakeholders to undermine the professional autonomy of other health professions.
Dr. Okara also said that AHPA and JOHESU were alerting the public of attempts by some state governments and federal health institutions to privatise some health services and facilities in line with the agenda of the NMA.
It is quite unfortunate that discussions on quality health care delivery in this clime are, in recent times, being overshadowed by allegations of partisanship of a health minister in favour of a particular group of health workers. While inter-professional wrangling is not new in the health sector, the dimension it has taken in the past couple of years has been very disturbing. The attendant effect of this is that other health professionals are not just going on strike to protest against problems and downturns in the quality of care in the health sector, but to also kick against the manoeuvrings of the health ministry which are believed to be palpable ploys to favour medical doctors at the expense of other health workers.
One thing is incontestable. The Prof. Chukwu-led ministry of health owes a colossal duty of clearing this impression of partisanship and favouritism. This impression is detrimental to the work of the minister, the health ministry and even Nigerians who have, over the years, borne the brunt of poor healthcare delivery in the country.
Ideally, the health minister, more than any other person, should, in all his deeds, demonstrate that he is leading the health ministry towards transformation of healthcare delivery in the country, and not to champion the interest of any professional group above others.
The health sector depends on the inputs of different professionals, all playing important roles to provide care for the people. To infer that a particular professional group is more important than the others in such a multidisciplinary sector as health is not only counter-productive but also very divisive.