Bill to establish 36 medical universities passes second reading

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As Nigerian authorities battle the Coronavirus pandemic in the country, the House of Representatives is considering a Bill aimed at ensuring the establishment of Specialised University of Medicine and Health Sciences in each of the 36 states of the federation.

The Bill, sponsored by Saidu Musa Abdullahi, a legislator representing Bida, Gbako, Katcha Federal Constituency of Niger State, recently scaled second reading when it was deliberated upon at the plenary presided by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila.

The Bill particularly aims at addressing medical workforce shortage in the country as well as provide more opportunities and level playing ground for students to gain admission to study medicine and other health-related disciplines in the proposed universities.

The Bill is classified into 30 sections which provides for the establishment of the university as an institution with the status of a public institution for study and research as well as vocational facility, a body corporate with perpetual succession that can sue and be sued.

It confers on the university the powers to hold, acquire and dispose of property, express interest in property, movable and immovable.

Other sections of the Bill include the governing council, membership/tenure, powers of the council, functions of pro-chancellor, the senate and functions, the vice chancellor and other principal staff of the university, their selection method, statutory provisions such as pensions and other welfare conditions in accordance with the federal civil service, source of funding to the university and management of such funds as well as other support staff.

Abdullahi sought the input of stakeholders towards the public hearing scheduled to hold when the health challenge posed by the Coronavirus pandemic is over.

In his argument, he said that: “We certainly need it and I draw my inspiration from expectation from the World Health Organisation (WHO), you realise that the standards so far in WHO is 1 ratio 1000 of the population and if you base it from that perspective, you realise that Nigeria as a country with a population of 200 million today has registered medical doctors and dentists totalling about 72,000. And so if you view it from that perspective, you realise that we still have a very huge gap to cover.

“For you to really appreciate the gap in terms of where we are and where we are supposed to be, when you look at other countries and do comparative analysis you realise that we still have a long journey to embark on.

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“Take India, for instance. Today India has over 470 medical schools and their yearly intake into MBBS programme is in excess of 67,000. Now, if you look at countries like Malaysia and Brazil, you realise that they are also far ahead of us. Malaysia, for instance, has a ratio of 1 ratio 633 persons with an ambitious target of 1 ratio 400 while Brazil has a ratio of 1 to 400.

“These are counties that have met global standards but they are still ambitious enough to push it lower than the standards that have been set. So when you bring it back home, you have lots of Nigerians with aspirations to study medicine but unfortunately we end up killing their aspirations. We are not providing them with enough opportunities for them to actualise their aspirations.

“We are supposed to be a country that is promoting the actualisation of the aspirations of its citizens and not kill such aspirations. I have a personal experience where a university in the North West last year received almost 1,000 applications of students wanting to study medicine, but in the end they could only accommodate between 60 and 70 candidates. That is less than 10 percent of those that aspired to study medicine in the university.

“On a micro level, if you look at it globally you will have the same picture which I think is not too good for us as a country. We are still a developing country even though some of these challenges are expected. It is one thing to have the challenges and it is another thing to come up with solutions.

“We want, at the pilot scheme, to start the project in my federal constituency and going forward we will have need to establish many more educational institutions. These are some of the reasons that made me to come up with this proposal.

“If you look at it also, we are known for establishing specialised educational institutions. We have federal universities of technology; we have federal universities of education, federal universities of agriculture, federal universities of petroleum and even a specialised university for the maritime sector. So why don’t we take on the health sector?

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“It was Winston Churchill who said, and I quote, “that healthy citizens are the greatest assets of a country.” I think we should begin to look at the issue of health from a very realistic point of view and not from a biased point of view.”

On funding of the proposed institution, Abdullahi said: “The greatest asset I think any country will boast of is its human capital. Nigeria is blessed with a lot of material resources and our greatest asset is actually in human capital. Now as a country, we have not done enough investment in human capital. These are necessary investment. Of course, nobody would expect that when you establish a university there would not be the challenge of funding.

“We are aware the educational sector is grossly underfunded, but we know that the government is trying to change the narrative. These are necessary investment and expenditure that the country must embark upon if we are to make impact on the lives of our people.

“Part of the challenges we face in this country today is that we have not invested enough in our people. We need to create opportunities for our people from either the economic and social perspectives.

“I am sure if you set up institutions like this, I am sure our medical experts who are abroad would be willing to return home. Out of the 75,000 registered with the Nigeria Medical Association, more than 50 per cent of them are said to be practising abroad. So if we create an enabling environment for them to come, I think some of these people would be willing to come back home.

“The initiative should be seen from the perspective of necessity. We actually need this thing. That is why it should be considered as an integral aspect of nation building. The WHO’s standard is 1 ratio 1000. Nigeria today, looking at our population of over 200 million, we are likely going to have a number like 1 ratio 4,000 because the 72,000 registered medical doctors and dentists more than 50 per cent of them are practicing abroad. If you look at the ratio of those practising here, you get ratio 1 ratio 5,000 and that is not too good for the country. It is grossly inadequate for the country.”

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The lawmaker painted a vivid picture of the dearth of medical facility in Niger, his home state, to buttress his assertions.He noted: “Niger state is the only state in North Central Nigeria that has either no privately or publicly owned tertiary institution awarding degrees in medicine and health sciences. The only two existing universities in Niger State, ie Federal University of Technology, Minna, which is technologically inclined and Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida University, Lapai, currently do not run courses in medicine and health-related areas.

“There are 1,335 health facilities in Niger State, out of which two are tertiary health facilities, 21 secondary health facilities and 1,322 (99%) are PHC facilities. 1,095 (83%) of these PHC facilities are publicly owned while the remaining 227 (17%) are privately owned.

“Niger State has a doctor-patient population ratio of 1 doctor to 9,000 population, far worse that the national average of 1 doctor to 4,000 population against World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 1 doctor to 600 population for effective healthcare delivery.

“The medical and dental practitioners in the country, 50 per cent of whom are said to be practising abroad, with over 70 per cent of the remaining practising in cities and economically sound state, leaving states like Niger with about 400 doctors to cater for her entire population. This may be one of the seasons why World Health Organisation ranked Nigeria’s health system 187 out of 190 sampled countries in the world.

“The pharmacists and nurses are not different. The pronounced disproportion in health outcomes and access to health services in Niger State raise the question about the availability of quality healthcare professionals and quality care received during clinical encounter in the health facilities. Hence the need to site a Federal University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Bida. The Federal Medical Centre, which is currently at Bida, is a tertiary health facility that can serve the training needs of the proposed university.”

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