Friday, May 20, 2011

At Last, Senate Passes National Health Bill

The sustained pressure mounted by some civil society groups on the National Assembly over the health bill before it paid off Thursday as the Senate finally passed the National Health Bill.

Legislative actions were completed on the bill about two years ago when the two chambers of the National Assembly passed different versions of it.Senate President, David Mark, however said the bill's passage was not as a result of Wednesday's  protest  by one of the pressure groups made up mainly of women at the assembly grounds.

Mark said: “It is an import bill, it is true that it has taken a while but we were able to pass it. Anything that has to do with health has to pass through rigorous scrutiny.

We did not pass the bill because people were protesting yesterday (Wednesday); we are only doing our work. The bill was already in the order paper Wednesday when they were protesting.”

Presenting the conference committee report on the  Bill for an Act to Provide a Framework for the Regulation, Development and Management of a National Health System and Set Standards for Rendering Health Service in the Federation and Other Matters Connected Therewith, 2011" on the Senate floor Thursday, the Senate Health  Committee Chairman, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello (PDP Ogun),  attributed  the delay in passing the bill to "some technical problems".

She said: “Following differences in the two versions of the bill as passed by the two houses of the National Assembly, a conference committee was constituted in the Senate on Thursday 7th May, 2009 and House on Thursday, 28th May, 2009 to harmonize the differences.

“The bill was thereafter passed in identical form by both Houses and transmitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly for further action.

This was not to be, as the Legal Department returned it (Bill) for what they considered to be enactment problem.”

Questioned by some of her colleagues over the delay of the conference report, Obasanjo-Bello said the committee had to look at the clauses added by the House of Representatives at the instance of the Minister

of Health, which were not in the version passed by the Senate.

Obasanjo- Bello however told newsmen at a post-plenary briefing that  he importance of the bill cannot be over emphasized.

The bill seeks to define, streamline and provide a framework for standard and regulation of health services in the country; and spell out rights and duties of healthcare providers and health workers.

It would be recalled that on Wednesday angry market women stormed the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, to protest against what they described as "unacceptable delay in the passage of the bill".

The protesters  who could not be stopped by the police threatened to go into the chambers nude should security personnel prevent them from gaining entrance into the hallowed chambers.

Some of the placards bore the inscriptions: “Market Women Association (FCT), Pass the National Health Bill; 241,000 new born die yearly!!! Stop the death!! Nigeria needs the Health Bill; Life Expectancy:

Nigeria – 42 years, Ghana – 60 years”; and “we have voted, give us health care, pass the Bill"; "fix the health system, pass the National Health Bill,” among others.

The protesters were however pacified by the Senate Health Committee

Chairman, Obasanjo-Bello, who, in the company of Senator Gyang Dantong (PDP, Plateau), assured them that work was in progress on the Bill.

She said the seeming delay in passing the National Health Bill was informed by the need to ensure that all necessary variables that will make it people-oriented and beneficial were taken care of.

“We have worked on this Bill night and day so that health care in Nigeria can be adequately funded; the conference committee of the

National Assembly has met over the bill and by tomorrow (yesterday) the work would have been done, leaving the rest for bureaucracy and executive”.

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