The World African Health Sector Union Network members holding a banner

Labour Unions In Nigeria Demand The Adoption Of Healthcare Rights, Upgrade Of Facilities


An adoption and passage into the law of healthcare rights in the National and State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria was called for by The West African Health Sector Unions Network (WAHSUN). During a validation meeting and advocacy planning session on ‘Healthcare is a human right campaign’ in Abuja, WAHSUN stated that this is the core of its campaign across West African region. The meeting, which had been organised by Solidarity Centre AFL-CIO, had noted that their findings have revealed the poor state of healthcare facilities and services in Nigeria and in West African countries. It stated that making healthcare a human right is the cure to ensuring efficient and effective healthcare facilities and services.

Workers, both within the formal and informal sector in Nigeria, were called by the participants during the meeting to stand up and join the campaign and advocacy for the demand of a healthcare rights legislation. Despite them enumerating the many benefits that the healthcare rights’ law would bring into the economic growth of the country, they specifically mentioned that the passage of the law and its implementation would tremendously soften the sufferings of the citizens that are due to health issues. The unions went on to denounce the high rate of continued travel to foreign countries to seek medical care by leaders while the poor are left to die in the horrible medical facilities in the country. They also said that the findings from their research revealed that Nigerians, annually, spend approximately $1 billion on medical tourism. They added that doctors were going out of the country to the United Kingdom, United States of America and Canada due to poor state of the healthcare facilities.

The Country Programme Director of West Africa Solidarity Center, AFL-CIO, Sonny Ogbuehi, who disclosed this said, “The research serves as a basis for advocacy to pressure government on the need to invest more on healthcare. Medical tourism is a huge issue. As everyone knows, when COVID-19 happened, the borders were close and a lot of government officers were forced to seek medical treatment in Nigeria. COVID-19 pandemic served as an eye opener to every country especially Nigeria, on how we need to equip our healthcare and invest more on healthcare and spend less on medical tourism.  According to the report, Nigeria spends 1 billion yearly and about $11 billion within the last 10 years. That’s a lot of money.”

He further noted that “The major challenge of healthcare service provision in Nigeria and other parts of Africa is lack of investment in healthcare. Government personnel seem to prefer going on medical tourism in other countries. Nigeria is currently at the top of countries that spend so much on medical tourism. Since after COVID-19 lockdowns, many African countries are investing heavily on their healthcare facilities. Nigeria unfortunately has not taken up the challenge as other African countries do. So this campaign is targeted at creating awareness for the government to wake up and take healthcare provision seriously.”

He had also praised trade unions for taking the lead in calling and creating awareness for healthcare provision and for the ultimate legislation of healthcare rights. In his earlier remarks, the Executive Secretary of the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA), John Odah, had called on the government to ensure that 15 per cent of their annual budgets were to be devoted to upgrading healthcare facilities to meet the minimum requirements that were set up by the Africa Union.

“The medical tourism is caused by neglect of medical facilities by various governments, both the federal and state government, and other members of the ruling elite that engage in this cause tremendous hemorrhage to our foreign exchange. It is a case of being pennywise pound foolish, if the respective governments have invested in upgrading the infrastructure of medical facilities, a lot of these medical tourism that happen wouldn’t have happened.”

Precious Mbat, the Programme Officer of OTUWA, said in a presentation that, “Nigeria has the largest population of informal workers in the African region and one of the largest in the world. Over 80 per cent of the active working populations in Nigeria work in the informal economy.” She pointed out that government needed to invest in the provision of more effective healthcare facilities, drugs and recruitment of medical personnel in poor communities as well as health insurance schemes that should be more inclusive as informal sector workers find it difficult to access healthcare in private hospitals for lack of affordability while government mediated community healthcare schemes are also poorly implemented.”

A member of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwife (NANNM), Faith Akabogu, had also stated that if the welfare of health workers in the country was not being taken into consideration, then Nigerian doctors will keep leaving the country.