By: Maryam Amodu
If you or anyone you know has ever used the Nigerian healthcare system, there is much to discuss. After many years of developing the proposed bill, Nigeria finally released a National Health Act (NHA) in 2014. The Act outlines how health services are organized and delivered in Nigeria. In addition, the act clarifies the arms of government responsible for services, as well as the rights and obligations of stakeholders within the healthcare system. As a patient or a user of this system, you are entitled to some rights.
Emergency Treatment: You have a right to receive medical attention in the event of an emergency. It is illegal by Nigerian law to refuse anyone emergency medical treatment. This might sound too good to be true or unrealistic to the typical Nigerian. How many times have we heard the unfortunate story of someone who lost his or her life because they could not afford treatment deposits? The National Health Act of 2014 clearly stipulates in Part III: Rights and Obligations of Users and Health Care Personnel under section 21 (1) that - “A health care provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person Emergency treatment for any reason whatsoever”. Section 21(2) of the Act goes on to determine that any guilty person is liable to a fine of 100,000 Naira or up to 6 months imprisonment. Some might argue that the punishment could be extended, but that remains another story.
Record Keeping and Confidentiality: Any health establishment that you visit is required by law to prepare a record of your stay, treatment and other necessary information to be held in strict confidentiality, except in the case(s) where you require access to that information or provide written consent for it to be released. No, it is not okay for your doctor or nurse to disclose your test results or state of health to a third party, except they have your consent to do so. Of course, the exception to release such information arises if it is a threat to public health, or if the individual is not capable of giving consent (such as minors, or if the person is determined “unwise” as defined by the act), or if the records have been court ordered. Your personal information should actively be protected.
Laying Complaints: You have a right to complain about the quality of service you receive at a health establishment. According to Section 30 of the National Health Act (2014), under the Rights and Obligations section, you can lay your complaints if you feel treated unfairly, and the complaint should be investigated. Not only do you have the right to complain, the manager of the establishment is responsible for making sure the procedure for laying complaints is displayed visibly at the location where health services are provided, and that clients are regularly informed that they can in fact, make complaints.
Organs should not be Sold/Bought: This should go without saying, but according to the NHA Part VI section 4 (4), any person who charges a fee for the donation of a human organ could be imprisoned for a minimum of 5 years. It is not uncommon for the altruistic purpose of organ donation to get exploited. In fact, there exists a complicated web of underground/black market buyers and sellers of organs, not just in Nigeria but all over the world. The key reasons why organs should not become commodities include the global issues regarding who has access to organ transplants and the scarcity of organs (donated). By selling organs, it is impossible to protect the vulnerable being exploited for the sake of financial gain. It only further decreases access to organs for those who would not be able to afford one (literally). The argument does still persist internationally on whether people should have the right to sell their own organs. In Nigeria at least, we know for sure that it is illegal according to the NHA.
Granted, it is not always the case that these rights and many others as explicitly stated in the National Health Act (2014) are enforced. It is however, useful for citizens to know that they have these rights, especially in cases where their vulnerability is being exploited for profit. Every human deserves emergency treatment without being asked to pay first, privacy and the right to life should never be compromised in a public or private health establishment. The first step to enforcing your rights is knowing about them. You should share this information with those you love and demand your rights. Copies of the Act are available online (see references for a link) for you to access. Most of the time, free knowledge is never popular, but maybe we can change that.
WHO | The state of the international organ trade: a provisional picture based on integration of available information. (2018). Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/85/12/06-039370/en/
National Assembly. National Health Act (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.nass.gov.ng/document/download/7990