Group advocates for free maternal and child health bill

The free MNCH bill, if signed and institutionalised, is capable of relieving families the burden of the costs of health facility-based child delivery and encourage women to attend antenatal care sessions.

In the face of the gloomy health situation of women, newborn and children as presented in the 2013 National Demography Health Survey (NDHS), the Bauchi State Accountability Mechanism (BaSAM) for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) is resounding the long forgotten call by CSOs in the State to enact a bill on free MNCH in the State.

During one of its meetings held at the National Union of Journalists Secretariat, Bauchi, BaSAM deliberated on key indicators for improving the poor health indices. Among the issues raised were inadequacy and poor distribution of midwives (especially within urban and rural health centres), inadequate life saving drugs, equipment and consumables.

The discussion was centred on glaring evidence of over-dependence by Governments on donor funding in running certain health plans which are not sustainable (e.g. withdrawal by donors on HIV/AIDS), the long JOHESU strike which is not client-centered, and at the background of the dwindling economy as occasioned by the fall in oil revenue. These calls for innovation, sacrifice and political will from policy makers to ensure that the required resources and legislation to turn around the poor maternal and child health indices are harnessed. 

BaSAM therefore underscored the significance of revisiting the free MNCH bill, which was touted several years back (around 2003) and championed by civil society organisations. There was also a move then even within the State Ministry of Health to develop a draft bill to that effect but somehow the process was truncated. 

In its wisdom, BaSAM, whose membership comprises officials within the health sector, health and allied professional bodies and the media, developed a strategy under its Knowledge Management and Communication sub-committee to advocate for the revisit and passage of Free MNCH bill in Bauchi State.

The sub-committee took opportunity of the commemoration of the World Religion Day to sensitise the public during a 30-minute radio discussion on Globe FM/FRCN on its Lafiya Jari (Health is Wealth) platform.  The program hosted religious leaders, a health professional, and a member of the State’s House of Assembly.

The discussion, which centered on the relationship between cleanliness in religion and the health of pregnant women and newborns, was first aired between 9.30am and 10.00am on Monday 26th January, 2015, with repeat broadcasts envisaged within the week and subsequent weeks to the 2015 election.The discussion also influenced a news item on NTA Bauchi on Sunday, January 25 2015.

The news item highlighted the perspective of religion, political promises and the health of pregnant women and newborns, and used the opportunity to call on policy makers to keep to their promises on the survival of mothers and babies. 

Follow up plans included writing of articles that would appear in print media, such as Daily Times, Daily Champion and News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), who were all represented in the meeting to call for the passage of a free MNCH bill in the State.

Another major opportunity to call for the passage of the bill is the forthcoming media interactive forum with the gubernatorial candidates of the political parties in the State. Selected members of BaSAM have been assigned to unearth the status of the draft free MNCH bill with a view to revisiting it and also tabling it at the State Executive and the legislatures for assent.

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