Health experts have urged Nigerian lawmakers to give autonomy to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC so as to be able it fully operate without political hindrances.
This plea was given by health partners and key players in the health sector at the public hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Disease at the National Assembly on Monday.
The hearing, which had a large turnout had in attendance, the minister of health, Isaac Adewole, heads of the health agencies, health experts, International Partners and donors, health associations and civil society organisations.
The public hearing was meant to give legislative backing to the activities of NCDC.
The bill which has gone through first and second readings at the house received overwhelming support of the health experts who all said that the legalisation of the agency is long overdue.
Most of the participants however emphasised the need for the bill to give NCDC maximum autonomy to be able to run and make decisions on it own without bureaucratic bottlenecks and government interventions.
They also spoke in support of multiple finance sources for NCDC and the need to strengthen the coordination of the outfit and the constitution of a governing board for agency which will not be politically based and solely rely on the president.
The senate president, Bukola Saraki in his opening remark said it is important that NCDC gets a legislative backing to give it a firm footing and adhere to international best practices.
Mr. Saraki, who was represented by the deputy senate leader Bala Na’Allah, said most people are unaware that NCDC has been operating administratively for several years with required personnel in place and receives a fair share of the annual budget as appropriated by the National Assembly.
Mr. Na’Allah said that with the appropriate legislation in place, it will make for stability of interventions and for legislative protection of government’s medium and long term planning.
The minister of health in his presentation, urged the Senate to urgently pass the Bill establishing the agency as the agency has been operating in the country since 2011.
He said it is unfortunate that the agency which had been at the forefront of disease surveillance, coordination response and control in the country especially during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 does not have a legal backing to support its activities.
He said the centre in the last few months has activated the national laboratory which had enabled the ministry to provide appropriate diagnosis for Nigerians but it still needs legislative backing to be able to perform in full statutory capacity.
M. Adewole also said Nigeria is a pioneer in the setting up of the disease control agency in Africa and has gone on to partner with ECOWAS in setting up a West Africa Regional Centre here in Nigeria.
He proposed a five year single tenure for the director of the centre so as to enable the management focus on the assignment given to it and not get carried away with politicking.
As regards the composition of the board, there is a need to go beyond health, there is a need to include the finance, agriculture and environmental ministries because the public health challenges are becoming encompassing, he said.
Another participant, Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology and the new Biovaccine chairman while applauding the legal backing of the centre said public health and disease control should be treated with utmost importance.
In his explanation, Mr. Tomori asked for adequate funding for the centre and suggested that the centre should receive funding allocated to it just as the security vote allocated to security in the country.
He also asked for the inclusion of all health and allied professionals in the running of the centre.
The President, Society of Public Health Professionals of Nigeria, FCT chapter said every nation must have an outfit as NCDC so as to be able to effectively monitor and respond to disease outbreak in the country.
He also urged that the bill make the agency free of bureaucratic tie ups and be less politicised.
He advised that the bill should be structured in a manner at which the board cannot be frequently dissolved and that in situation where it is done, there should be an approval from the senate and another board must be reconstituted within 48 hours.
This, he said would save the agency from being board-less like some agencies which have had no board for over two years.
The chairman, Senate committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, Mao Ohuabunwa in his closing remarks promised that the senate would take into consideration all the suggestions and criticism made on the bill.
He said the senate is keen on passing the bill to giving the health agency a legislative backing because they have realised that that is one of the ways at which the country can achieve the Universal Health Coverage.
Mr. Ohubunwa said the goal of the bill is to provide control, prevention, coordination and also facilitate the detection of outbreaks and the effective management of communicable diseases in Nigeria.
He said the senate intends to leverage on implementing the National Health Act into the appropriation budget for 2018.
This, he said would be done by the implementation of the basic health provision fund under the National Health Act 2014.
“We will ensure that reference laboratories for disease confirmations are set in the six geopolitical zones in the country. At least, two of the geopolitical zonal reference labs will kick off this year so that we have no reasons to go to Senegal for the testing of our samples,” he said.