The State House (Aso Rock) Medical Centre (SHMC), Abuja is supposed to be a Centre of Excellence in medical care. It was primarily established to cater for the health needs of the President, Vice President and their families. It was also designed to provide medical services for the retinue of presidential aides, cabinet ministers and other privileged personalities around the corridors of power.
It is also a training facility for medical officers and other health personnel. In the 2016 budget, the State House Medical Centre also known as Aso Rock Clinic was allocated N3.219 billion, which was meant for the completion of on-going work as well as procurement of drugs and other medical equipment. In the 2017 fiscal year, over N3 billion was allocated to this same medical facility. However, it is shocking to learn that the clinic has practically collapsed and cannot boast of even basic items such as syringes.
Most of its vital gadgets and equipment such as the x-ray machines have been shut down apparently due to lack of maintenance. Little wonder, President Muhammadu Buhari who recently battled with health challenges, has been shuttling between Nigeria and the United Kingdom in search of good medical care. On his most recent medical trip, Buhari spent 104 days treating an undisclosed ailment in an equally undisclosed hospital in London.
Although Nigerians had complained bitterly about medical tourism and its drain on the public treasury and integrity of our health sector, the Presidency had never given a damn to these observations. But alas, a Daniel has come to judgement and we can now see through the iron curtain that has shielded the revered Aso Rock Clinic from public view. It took the audacity of the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, to let Nigerians know the deplorable state of the elite clinic.
She spoke at the opening of a one-day stakeholders’ meeting on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health and Nutrition (RMNCAH and N) organised by her pet project, Future Assured, held right inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Aisha told the gathering of her unpleasant experience when she needed an urgent diagnosis at the SHMC. The First Lady said shortly after her husband returned from London, where he battled with his health challenge, she also fell sick and needed to be examined on an X-ray machine at the Aso Rock Clinic.
But she was informed that the X-ray was not functional. Consequently, she was advised to take the next available flight to London, but she insisted on being treated in Nigeria. She dared to confront the system and has publicly lamented that the situation at the SHMC was a confirmation that the health care system in Nigeria was very poor at the moment and needed urgent intervention by governments at all levels.
The president’s wife concluded that if the State House Clinic could be in such a deplorable state, one could only imagine the condition of the General Hospitals and Primary Healthcare Centres across the states. She wondered what the management of the clinic has been doing with the funds allocated to the SHMC on an annual basis. We share the concerns of the First Lady and we salute her rare courage in speaking out as patriotic citizen in an era where every voice of dissent is considered treasonable by the government of the day. We have no choice but to join her in demanding a comprehensive forensic audit of the budgetary allocations made to the Aso Rock Clinic in the last two years.
We must acknowledge that the House of Representatives has already passed a resolution mandating its Committee on Healthcare Services to investigate the deplorable condition of the clinic. As the lawmakers embark on this probe, we expect the parliament to go beyond the usual razzmatazz of summoning the managers of the facility and interrogating them for sheer media bliss.
The lawmakers must realise that the poor state of facilities at the Aso Rock Clinic is a clear manifestation of the failure of the oversight functions of the parliament over the years. The Permanent Secretary in the State House, Jalal Arabi, as well as the Managing Director of Aso Rock Clinic, Dr. Hussain Munir, had appeared before the lawmakers and provided answers as to why drugs as simple as paracetamol and consumables such as syringes and hand gloves are not available in the facility. With the submissions at the committee hearing, the lawmakers should profer solution to the crisis at the Aso Rock Clinic.
There is no doubt that the Aso Rock Clinic is a vivid metaphor for the state of healthcare delivery system in Nigeria. In spite of the huge investments in the health sector, Nigeria still paraded one of the worst indices in terms of disease burden, child and maternal mortality as well as general life expectancy.
Our political elite fritter away a huge chunk of our foreign exchange on medical tourism overseas while thousands of poor citizens die everyday for lack of access to quality and affordable health care. The situation we have on our hands is very shameful. It is high time we took the bull by the horns.