Journalists allege negligence of sector as health minister shuns COVID-19 conference

Health journalists in Nigeria have accused the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire of shunning for the second time in a row, a conference organised to seek solutions to Nigeria’s healthcare challenges.

The Association of Nigeria Health Journalists,(ANHEJ) had hosted a meeting on Thursday to brainstorm on the current vaccine hesitancy in the country and seek ways to convince Nigerians to accept COVID-19 vaccination.

However, Dr Osagie did not attend the meeting nor send a representative to the event, compelling the newsmen to allege that the minister is deliberately undermining efforts to improve the nation’s health sector.

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The minister’s absence was visibly felt at the conference which had the World Health Organisation and major stakeholders in the health sector in attendance.

The President of the Association Hassan, while responding to questions on whether the Health Ministry was informed of the Conference, affirmed that they were.

”Even though the ministry of health was informed of the conference, Dr Ehanire did not show up or send a representative to grace the conference with the theme: “Improving confidence in COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria: the role of the media, ” Zaggi said.

Hassan, a veteran journalist and President of ANHEJ said it would have been proper for the minister to honour the invitation or send a representative as the issues on the front burner are of national concern.

Many journalists who spoke to our correspondent expressed dissatisfaction at the development, saying it shows how little value the government places on journalists.

”Look now even our stakeholders are asking how we can be having such an auspicious event without inviting our minister, that it speaks a lot to how ineffective the ministry works with the fourth estate of the realm”, a journalist said anonymously.

There are allegations that since Dr Ehanire took over the affairs of the health ministry, he has deliberately refused to identify with health reporters.

When contacted a source at the ministry, who did not want his name in print denied having any knowledge of the event, saying they were not directed to represent the minister in any way.

In his remarks at the conference, the NUJ FCT Chairman, Emmanuel Ogbeche decried the absence of the nations health authorities and other key health agencies in the country.

”We are discussing a matter as delicate as COVID-19 and I am not seeing the minister here, neither the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency nor the NCDC. It speaks to the issues we have in this country that primary organisations that are critical in driving the process of advocacy and sensitisation, leave it for donors to do. We should redress such anomalies”.

”Agencies of government should be the drivers in any ecosystem of this country, particularly in health,” Ogebche told journalists.

Meanwhile, key stakeholders in the health sector have called out on the ministry of health to effectively and efficiently utilize the N500 billion naira stimulus funds donated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Nigeria, to help combat COVID-19 related issues.

The African Health Budget Network (AHBN), coordinated by Dr Aminu Magashi, said every COVID-19 funding and recovery plan touches the lives of all Nigerians and as such the public should adequately be informed on how each penny is spent.

Magashi who was represented by the Senior Programme and Partnership Officer, Dr. Obinna Onuoha said, so far, about 126 billion naira was given out to the health sectors to help build resilient health systems and also to settle other underlying health conditions faced by the sector.

The remaining 374 billion naira will be shared out to non-health sectors.

In the health sector, 86 billion was given out for capital projects on the revitalization of the health sector, while the remaining 40 billion was allocated for other critical issues or challenges faced.

The Nigerian Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other related departments received N10 million, N2 billion for laboratory equipment for efficient testing of vaccines.

The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development ( NIPRD), also received N2 billion for its research and development.

N18 billion was allocated to 21 University teaching hospitals and 31 Federal medical centres and Specialist hospitals while 7.7 billion naira was added for the provision of personal protective materials for workers in the laboratories.

Another 18.4 billion naira was given out to all the 36 states including the FCT, for the equipping of 10 intensive care units. 5.2billion was also allocated for the equipping of the isolation centres in each state and a N20 billion hazard allowance was allocated for workers.

Only about 50 percent of the funds have been released and shared among the various organizations and sectors. The Organization also urged those who have received the fund to commence work immediately, as work delayed after funding will be seen as sabotage by the public.

He further called on ANHEJ members to ensure they ask hard questions on the type, nature and duration of funding support for every recovery plan.

The media stands front-line and centre in ensuring that all Nigerians are well-informed with facts, he said.

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