Letter to the editor on National Health Bill
RE: THE NATIONAL HEALTH BILL (NHB) 2014 PASSAGE
Our lawmakers have betrayed the Nigerian people. Last year, individuals and groups made sacrifices to present the concerns of Nigerian citizens over certain sections of NHB 2008 in the public hearing of February 11th 2013.The expectations were that these concerns would be taken into account when this bill would be re-drafted and re-presented. Sadly, February 19th2014, the Senate passed into law the NHB 2014 which is essentially a replica of the NHB 2008/2012.
Our concerns: The National Health Bill 2014 (in articles 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, and 54 specifically) is not explicit on key issues surrounding removal of body parts/products leaving room for dangerous interpretations.
Article 49 refers to removal of tissues, blood and blood products in accordance with prescribed condition by the appropriate authority. We recommend that this article be deleted entirely since it leaves room for exploitation of the vulnerable. Secondly other tissues to be removed apart from blood are not specified. It could be a viable fetus and its removal, is abortion.
Article 50 refers to the usage of tissues, blood or blood products removed from a person 18 years and above. We recommend that the article include the clause ‘Viable fetus, egg or ova shall not be removed from any person in any circumstances.
Article 51 refers to the prior approval of the minister before tissues can be manipulated. We recommend that the clause ’without the prior approval of the minister’ be deleted entirely.
Article 52 refers to removal of tissues from living person for the purpose of transplantation. It should be stated that no viable fetus egg or ova shall be removed from a person for any purpose. The consent of the person from whom the tissue is being removed from was not considered in this article.
Article 53 give a lot of authority to Medical and Dental Practitioners to manipulate tissues removed from persons at will. The use of these tissues must be specified.
Article 54 permits sale and trade of human tissues like female eggs cells, sperms, cornea etc by giving an exception clause which can be read as; when reasonable payments are made in an appropriate health establishment, tissue, blood or blood products can be sold or traded in.
These articles contain issues bordering perilously on trafficking of human tissues from Nigerian citizens. From a strictly clinical perspective, the payment of donors for their blood and blood products has been a longstanding taboo scientifically proven to result in more unsuitable donors such as drug addicts, thugs, etc with contaminated blood/blood products. This leads to increased wastage of resources in screening out such contaminated products.
Critically, biotechnology companies from other countries have set up shop in our country and through the ‘authorized hospitals’ stated in article 51 sections (1a), have already begun to collect these human tissues, human eggs, sperm, blood plasma, etc., for experiments through “donor programs”. These international companies are expanding to developing countries like Nigeria because the increasing demand for eggs for assisted reproductive technologies has coincided with an increased awareness of its significant risk in developed countries. The resultant increased demand is therefore best met by their calculations, in developing countries like Nigeria, where there are no regulations on trafficking in human embryos, tissues and products. NHB 2014 will simply legitimize their illegal activities thus far.
These egg donor programs are conducted without ethical informed consent, but on the basis of ‘money for eggs’. These programs thereby exploit the younger generation especially young girls who due to the poor economic environment are lured into selling their body parts for a trifling sum. As a result, most donors are not aware of the health hazards, including kidney and liver failure. Several young girls have already been hospitalized for intensive care in Lagos on account of complications they suffered after being exposed to the high doses of hormones needed for egg donation.
Africa is the world’s largest exporter of embryonic stem cells, with European based In-vitro fertilization (IVF) satellite clinics, established in most big cities in Africa, to retrieve eggs and create embryos for research from poor uneducated African women. African governments have no legislation and law enforcement structures in place, to protect women and unborn children in their earliest stages of development. The current policy of Nigeria is to protect life of unborn children from conception till birth. As Africa celebrates the centenary of Nigeria’s existence, the onus is on this great nation to pave the way in healthcare legislation that caters to local needs and also prevents transatlantic trade and trafficking in human eggs and embryos. To pass NHB 2014 as it is will be to leave a loophole for trafficking to occur under government permission issued by the Minister of Health.
Apart from unwholesome research practices such as cloning and destructive embryonic stem cell research which destroys still developing Nigerian citizens, it is well known that the homosexual community resorts to fertility clinics to have children. NHB 2014 by indirectly permitting the sale and the trade of such eggs and embryos will be undoing the good example set by the recently passed anti-same sex law. Nigeria needs to bring under control these unethical facets of the In-vitro fertilization industry as required by the Helsinki Declaration.
Removal of tissues from a living person is a blanket phrase which within the articles above could be used by international bodies to lobby for unethical practices involving random termination of life. At both extremes of life through abortion and euthanasia, such disregard for life has become rampant internationally. This is in stark contrast to Nigeria’s cultural and religious value for life. The pervasive influence of the powerful international abortion and euthanasia lobby within healthcare and political circles makes it paramount that no health legislation allows either lobby group a hold in our nation.
Our Recommendations: Nigeria’s commitment to its unborn children from conception to birth should be reiterated in NHB 2014. NHB 2014 should contain a clause that will explicitly and clearly state that under no condition is the removal, use and manipulation of female egg cells (ova), embryonic cells and embryos permissible. Just as these are strictly regulated by law in Europe and in the United States, Nigeria shall not condone BIOLOGICAL SLAVE TRADE FOR BIOTECH FIRMS nor provide human tissues/organ spare parts for the whole developed world.
CONCLUSION: Nigeria is in need of a health bill that will reflect the reality of our lives, beliefs, morals and culture and not one which will legitimize a Biological Colonialism of Nigeria. Thus, articles 49 to 54 must be expunged. The National Health Bill 2014 should explicitly declare that the sale and/or trafficking of human ovarian eggs, embryos, embryonic tissues and cloning of human beings are banned under any conditions. The latter, if permitted, will have genetic and social repercussions in the society as are being currently witnessed in developed countries. Nigeria needs to have a health bill that ensures quality health care for all by making health services affordable, accessible and effective and that will put an end to the enormous waste of resources going on presently through health tourisms.
Dr. Nkechi Asogwa Engr. Jerry Okwuosa
Doctors Health Initiative Project for Human Development
Imam Shefiu Abdul Kareem Chief Mrs. V. Uzoigwe
Islamic Platform of Nigeria Association of Concerned Mothers
Dr. Regian Akosa Mrs. Folakemi Adu
Happy Home Foundation Folard Nigeria Ltd.
Ms. Ijeoma Uzoma