Two decades and still counting that yours faithfully has been engaged in media practices and other allied advocacy activities, one issue that mystifies me is why traditional media gate keepers like editors have failed to scale up reportage of health issues as the mainstream thematic topics.
From the benefit of hindsight, the typical Nigerian newspaper editor rates political stories far and above such important existential issues like health.
I used to think that the fundamental reason for this distorted scale of preference for political rather than health related stories is the foundational mapping of media ownership long before the country gained independence in 1960.
Prior to Nigeria’s political independence, majority of the prominent newspapers were owned by such political icons like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo. Much of what these earliest newspapers were reporting was basically about political issues that relates to Nigeria’s effort to gain independence from Britain.
But the above reason does not really add UP especially in our contemporary era whereby media ownership has tilted towards pure investors and business executives who are not primarily concerned about using their media outfit to promote their political aspirations.
Majority of the print and electronic media houses are in the hands of non-career politicians but the focus of the news coverages has remained politics and such strategic issues like health are still pushed to the background.
It is such a shocking phenomenon that not even the health challenges of late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua (who died from health related complications whilst in office) and now President Muhammadu Buhari have necessitated a paradigm shift in the focus of news reporters and their editors even when these political officers have had to travel to such places like Britain, Switzerland, Germany and even Saudi Arabia in search of cure for their health challenges.
The question remains why Nigerian media has yet to elevate health reportage as the major news stories even when developed economies such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America have persistently made health as the most significant item in their daily news reports.
These nations also have excellent and transparent record keeping practices even as the applications of Freedom of Information laws (FOI) regarding public expenditures for health and other infrastructures and services are democratically made available on request.
Britain is a very perfect example where much of their privately owned electronic and print media have consistently focused on health issues.
But why have editors in Nigeria failed to cash in on the failure of political office holders to consult local doctors and hospitals to pose the correct question of where all the humongous health sector budgetary releases have disappeared into?
For instance, the budget for Aso Rock Presidential Clinic dwarfed that of the entire public health sector in 2016, but yet President Buhari has had to frequently travel to the United Kingdom in search of better healthcare.
Why then are journalists and editors in private media organizations not asking the right questions to assist Nigerians to locate the whereabouts of the billions of dollars said to have been released to the managers of the health sector since 1999 till date? Even billions donated by World Health organization for scaling up awareness campaigns about HIV/AIDS are stolen but no heavy weather is made of this crime against humanity in our traditional mainstream media.
The fact is that since the local media often report politics, these politicians in public offices now view themselves as “Superstars” and folk ‘heroes’ who should be adored by millions of the heavily impoverished populace. In Britain politicians are regarded as servants of the people. But in Nigeria political office holders operate like emperors.
This is why we read paid advertisements in newspapers praising politicians for implementing aspects of their capital budgetary blueprints such as the construction of poor quality road infrastructure even with public fund as if the money is from their own pockets.
With the exception of a handful of online media, most private media pays little attention to the frightening fact that year in, year out, Nigeria budgets billions for the public health sector but yet public health services are not available for millions of both rural and urban poor.
The case of the 2016 State House Clinic budget is scary and till date there has been no effort made by the media in line with section 22 of the Constitution to demand answers why the politicians neglect our local health institutions only to gallivant around the World on health tourism.
The Nigerian government in 2016 reportedly spent more on capital projects at the State House Medical Centre than it provided for the 16 teaching hospitals belonging to it.
The State House Clinic reportedly got N787million more in capital allocation than all the 16 teaching hospitals combined.
The State House Medical Centre is a facility that provides healthcare for President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, their families and other employees of the Presidency, all possibly less than a thousand, so says Premium Times online medium.
Federal teaching hospitals cater for the health needs of millions of Nigerians, trained medical doctors and other health professionals for the nation while also serving as top medical research centers.
A breakdown of the 2016 Appropriation Bill shows that a total of N3.87billion was allocated for capital projects at the State House Clinic.
In contrast, the country’s 16 federal government-owned teaching hospitals individually only got a fraction of the allocation made for the presidential clinic.
According to the 2016 budget, N212, 539,245 was allocated for capital projects at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital in Lagos, one of the country’s most populous states, while the capital allocation for the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Kaduna, is N230,904,795, so reports Premium Time.
Similarly, the capital allocation for the University College Hospital, Ibadan, was N230,904,795; University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu (N218,335,908); University of Benin Teaching Hospital (N212,886,502); Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital, Ile Ife (N162,622,221); University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (N166,802,164); University of Jos Teaching Hospital (N228,717,880); and University of Port Harcourt (N169,498,392).
The capital allocation for other hospitals are: University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (N201,082,446); University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (N215,151,873); Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching hospital, Sokoto (N279,000,000); Aminu Kano University Teaching Hospital (N210,380,376); Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi (N166,188,931); University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (N198,715,702); and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital (N229,005,992).
It may be safe to conclude that since these humongous amounts are reportedly released for just the presidential health center but yet the number one citizen travels at huge public expenses to the United Kingdom to cater for his health challenges, therefore there has to be a forensic financial audit of the capital and recurrent budgets spent for this privileged State House clinic.
In Britain, much of the media coverages are centered on the health sector.
In fact even the troubling immigration crises facing Europe is tied to Public health care because European countries scientifically allocate subsidies to care for the emergency healthcare of their own people captured in their qualitatively drawn data unlike in the less developed country like Nigeria whereby record keeping is criminally poor. In the developed nations immigrants distort their plans for delivery of social and healthcare services to their people.
For instance, the UK currently spends over £140bn a year on public provision of health and over £20bn on social care. But how does that break down and how has spending changed over time? (www.health.org.uk).
In 2015/16 the totals spend on health in the UK was £140.6bn, nearly 11 times more than when it was established in 1948, in real terms. Public funding for health care has increased faster than economic growth, with the share of UK GDP more than doubling from 3.5% in 1949/50 to 7.4% in 2015/16. On average, spending has risen by 3.7% a year in real terms, but it hasn’t been a continued steady increase over this time – there have been periods of relatively high and low growth.
Health.org reports that in 2015/16 cycle about £16bn was spent on public provision of adult social services in England, based on net total spending. This figure is about £14bn if you do not include the transfers from the NHS to social care made through the Better Care Fund. Using this measure, this is twice the amount spent in 1994/95, but 17% lower than when spending was at its peak in 2010/11.
The amount spent on adult social care according to the aforementioned electronic medium has decreased every year since 2010/11, if you do not include transfers from the NHS. If you do then there was a real terms increase this year.
Again, “public spending on adult social care varies for each country in the UK, from £290 per head in England, to £427 in Scotland. This is partly explained by a difference in relative need for the populations, and decisions made by the respective devolved governments.”
“In Scotland, where total spend per head is highest, funding has risen by an average of 0.5% a year in real terms between 2008/09 and 2014/15, During the same period, funding per head has fallen in England and Wales, by an average of 1.6% and 0.4% a year respectively. A consistent time series is not available for Northern Ireland before 2011/12, after which spending per head has risen by an average of 0.4% a year in real terms,” (www.health.org.uk).
In the United States, the last presidential election campaigns focused significantly on the fate of Obamacare which is a public health insurance policy put in place during the last President Barack Obama’s administration.
The new American President Mr. Donald Trump is said to be vigorously working to amend the health policy in line with his campaign blueprint. Trump had promised to overhaul Obamacare but later modified his promise stating that he might retain some aspects of Obamacare.
The U.S media also focuses extensively on health issues even as politicians are treated as the public servant that they are.
In my own Country, politicians are treated in the media like demigods just as the life threatening challenges encountered in the health sector by millions of Nigerians are not elevated to page one story status.
This is unfortunates. The western media focuses on how public policies of elected officials ought to promote better life for the people but in Nigeria the media promotes stories that focus on using public fund to better the life for only the political elite.
This dysfunctionality must change.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com