Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

The House of Representatives has passed for Second Reading, a bill seeking to prohibit public officials from accessing medicare treatment abroad, at the expense of the government.

The bill seeking to amend the National Health Act 2014 was sponsored by Sergius Ogun.

In his lead debate, Ogun said the bill seeks to put an end to huge costs incurred by government in the treatment of public officials abroad.

He, however, said if any public official could, on his or her own, afford medical treatment abroad, nothing stopped the person from doing so.

“I want to make it clear that it does not bar anybody that has (his or her) money from getting treatment abroad.

“Nigeria is the only country where the president is flown out for treatment and brought back home to die.

“Nigeria is the only country where the president is flown out for six months, without us knowing the cost of the treatment.”

Ogun decried the poor state of health facilities in the country and urged the House to take action and reverse the ugly situation “in the interest of the people” who voted them into office.

The lawmaker said if passed, the bill would strengthen existing public and private institutions in the country.

Besides, he said passage of the bill would “facilitate realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in relation to health through the establishment of strong health institutions and vigilant regulatory authorities.”

Chairman, House Committee, Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrasak Namdas, added: “I support this bill.  There is need for us to curtail medical tourism.”

But Namdas noted that there is need to pay serious attention to issues in the health sector.

According to him, situations where doctors in public hospitals abandoned their duties for their own private clinics must also be addressed.

In June 2016, Dr. Osahon Enabulelehas accused President Muhammadu Buhari of reneging on a promise to end “medical tourism” by seeking treatment in the United Kingdom.

Nigerians spent $1 billion (£690 million) on foreign medical trips in 2013, most of which was unnecessary, said Dr. Enabulele.

In 2016, Buhari flew to London, to be treated for an ear infection.

Vice-president of the Commonwealth Medical Association, Dr. Enabulele, said it was a “national shame” that Buhari went to the UK for treatment when Nigeria had more than 250 ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists, as well as a National Ear Centre.