Interview: Nigeria Must Overhaul Its Health Insurance Policy or Lag behind Forever—Dr. Azare

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Dr. Samaila Dahuwa Kaila Azare is a Bulgarian trained medical doctor and retired as an Assistant Director from the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA). Dr. Azare who currently runs one of the largest medical diagnostics company in the country argues that for the nation’s reforms in the heath sector to yield any fruits, Federal Government must do a complete overhaul of the country’s health insurance policy and get the private sector to drive the process.  Azare who is eyeing the governorship of Bauchi State under the platform of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) says Bauchi needs a reformist like him to take the state to the next level. Excerpts:

 

Can you tell us about yourself, for the purpose of our readers?

My name is Dr Samaila Dahuwa Kaila and I was born in the year 1962 July 16,I was born in Azare, a town in Bauchi state. I attended Day  Primary School in Azare then went to Government Secondary School Azare and finished in 1980.I went Bauchi College of Arts and Science from 1980 to 1981 and then got a scholarship to study Medicine in the Republic of Bulgaria where I stayed from 1982 to 1988 I came back to Nigeria in December of that year. I did my housemanship  in the year 1989 and went for the youth service in 1990.

I was employed in the Bauchi State Civil Service in 1991 and in 1994 I got an appointment with the National Intelligence Agency and moved to Abuja where I began a career in the federal civil service, and as you know, it is a security intelligence arm of the government there I rose to the position of assistant director before retiring voluntarily. While at the NIA I went to the University of Liverpool for postgraduate studies in 1995. I got a post graduate diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene and in the organization I also went for many courses which are of course classified and cannot be shared here.

I decided to retire voluntarily in 2011 and ventured into private business I decided to establish a medical diagnostic centre in Kano which we call Providian Medical Diagnostic centre situated at no 109 Lamido Crescent, Kano. It is a  diagnostic facility where we have all the equipment  for medical diagnosis;  MRI, CT comprehensive radiology and other electro medical equipment. We have been running the centre for between six to seven years and want to believe we are successful. We have been able to maintain the equipment and will further expand to our new hospital it is going to be A 50 bed state of the art hospital when completed here in Kano. This is an abridged version of my biography.

What were the challenges you faced in life from your early stage to your work experience and while setting up the place here?

Of course challenges are there for someone who studied abroad where things are remarkably different, one has to really work hard to acclimatize, especially in the area of healthcare there we’re many challenges but I did not consider them as challenges as I knew them, I had prepared my mind that I was coming  back to a system that was not as developed as the one I was in, it was amazing to know that some of the equipment  we are using here in 2018 were long outdated in parts of Europe.

How was it like leaving the government and being on your own, escaping from the salary trap?

It was not easy moving from the conventional civil service into the business arena, more especially for someone who has risen from the lowest possible level to the position of an assistant director in one of the most elitist organization, a disciplined and regimented place where everything is done almost perfectly. I decided to venture into private business and I chose what I knew but I have not practiced as a Doctor so I settled for medical diagnostics because it does not require me being there all the time seeing patients and secondly medical diagnostics is the main area where we are lagging behind, most of the issues in Nigeria is in the area of putting the diagnosis properly

Nigeria has some of the best surgeons. We have some of the best physicians but to get the diagnosis right is the issue and so I went for diagnostics. You will be surprised as people were even asking me where did I get the money and it was an answer I tell that while I was working the organization I was in took care of staff well and so I was privileged to be given a house in a choice location. When Obasanjo came, they came up with the policy of allowing civil servants buy the houses they are in and the house was monetized for me. I was there one and I asked myself why should I be living in a multi million naira mansion when I can use it to establish a business and so without telling anyone not even my wife I sold the house and moved into a rented one and of course while I was working I had the privilege of going around the world and knew where all the equipments are and how to get them. I put all the money to the equipment and although some were fairly used but we are using them years after and all that I had invested are yielding fruits.

Initially it was not very easy but with the efforts today we are not talking of profit but expansion to other places. But one of the greatest challenges we faced was in the area of corruption. When I started I didn’t know that corruption exist in the practice, and that for a medical diagnostic centre to survive one has to bribe Doctors, I did not know the system so when I started, patients were not coming and the place was like isolated then a friend came to me and said look if you really want the patients to come you have to go the Doctors and tell them what you’re going to pay them, I was puzzled and asked in Kano? I decided I d rather close shop not because I don’t want Doctors to get money but because  it is a monumental corruption which I could not do. You will be surprised if I tell you we charge the least rate but patients were queuing in other places and that went for two years. Then the trend changed and some good Doctors said okay this guy is tough and anyway let s do it and we got patients coming and we ve  since started recouped our investment and even making profit. Up to now it is a company policy that we are not giving anybody a kobo for sending a patient to us to run tests. We will continue to remain resolute on that.

You are said to be a philanthropist and have been helping people especially in this field. What is your source of motivation and how do you see medical support in Northern Nigeria and how can it be extended?

Well, first I don’t want to use the word philanthropy. If by that you mean taking my money and dashing it to people, then I m not a philanthropist in that sense but the mere fact that I came to Kano and established a centre that is standard and a centre where people in Kano and neighboring states need not to go to Abuja or Lagos for diagnostics is a philanthropy and today our prices are among the cheapest in the country because I have gone round and know this and that I m staying and expanding it is enough a contribution. Medical practice is expensive if we are to be sincere and the government cannot take the burden so the earlier people realize this, the better. Anywhere in the world the only way healthcare is sustained is through health insurance and if the health insurance is not properly put in place, we will remain where we are. I am calling on the government and its people is to ensure that the right schemes are implemented and of course if we do not change our attitude towards government on general and let me expand on this.

I’m currently the second vice president of Health Care Federation of Nigeria, which is an umbrella organization of all medical facilities stakeholders in the private sector in the country. It includes Doctors Pharmacists and Bankers who are into healthcare provision. We all know we have to change the health insurance system to what is obtained in advanced societies their own is still with some difficulties but we have not even taken the path. First of all it s a financial matter and unfortunately in Nigeria it s still under the ministry of health, it is a strictly insurance, financial matter not a health matter. The difference between a health insurance and a car is not much; the rudiments are the same, the principle is the same, so if you look at it as a health matter you ve missed the point from day one. You cannot bring in a consultant cardiologist and say he will head an insurance because it is not his or her business, Insurance is a field that you go to a university and study and there are experienced insurance practitioners in Nigeria but I think the one heading the one in Nigeria is a Doctor you will see nurses and others so we missed it from day one and if we don’t get health insurance right we won’t get things right.

So we should understand Insurance first and then link it with healthcare……?

What I m saying is one health insurance is the key to unlocking the potentials in healthcare and two the participation of the private sector is paramount, the government is shying away and it is a slow and dangerous trend. At least the tertiary level of medicare should be driven by the private sector as practiced all over the world. Studies show people like here in Kano visit private hospitals as their first port of call as against those who visit government owned hospitals. The ration is at about 75% to 25%, so there is the need to wake up and face reality.

So, how do you relax?

I am now a politician, after establishing the centre and setting all things I realized I had so much time, our equipment were working some for even two years without any hitch and I asked myself why are hospitals having equipment that are down and I found it is  some small things that could be addressed, I gathered a lot of experience which I want to share so I went into politics,  initially supporting someone and ended being the one touted for the seat of the Bauchi State governor, I m now the gubernatorial aspirant under the New Nigeria Peoples Party  and with that we are not talking of relaxation. My philosophy is to change the way we do things here in Nigeria. We have been doing it the same old way since 1960. We have to change to see different result s. We should think in 2018 the era of Facebook and Twitter. So when we come to govern we must change the way things are done and it is possible. It has been done in  Lagos and other places so we have to do it in Bauchi.

 

 

 

 

 

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